“Perked-up unionism facing stale nationalism is the opposite of the state of play for several decades.”

It really has become a game of two halves. Sinn Fein has shifted most of its focus and talent (which may explain that odd screw up in FST) to the Republic leaving Fortress Shinner in Northern Ireland manned (Beau Geste style) by a skeleton crew.

Fionnuala O’Connor detects a sea change

It became unchallengeable to observe that new nationalist confidence faced demoralised unionism, generally inarticulate.

But the contrast has been less stark for some time now. The long, unproductive anti-climax since 1998 and the eventual stalemate at Stormont has worn nationalism down.

‘New nationalism’ arguably coasted on John Hume’s legacy and the emergence of civilianised republicanism, a fitful business of stop and start.

Unionism today is hardly inspiring, but it faces parties running on empty, minus the dynamism and vision that once set the pace.

It’s a fair point, although I think Fionnuala underestimates the potential of a successful Brexit campaign, should the DUP agree as a party to accept such a dubious mission. However she returns to the main point:

As the Republic’s politics adjust post-Tiger, northern nationalism in terms of Irish government priorities was always going to be relegated.

First the SDLP slipped off Irish radar as the peace process took shape, the post-Hume party struggling to focus while republicans demanded and got the bulk of attention.

The southern political class logged Sinn Féin’s arrival in the Dáil with abiding distaste.

In turn republicanism has focused its energy in the Republic, where its younger faces have ability the northern branch conspicuously lacks.

The debacle turned u-turn on benefits could hardly have been handled worse.

The committee-think that plotted each step the Adams/McGuinness leadership took in the first years created the impression of a talent reservoir, which it turns out does not exist. An injection of ability via new arrivals never happened.

Maybe a cadre of ex-prisoners as advisers repelled as many potential recruits as it rewarded old hands.

McGuinness has had to front up and fill the gap with folksy quasi-charisma, maintaining some sense of momentum by modelling calm and patience while Peter Robinson flatly refused to show leadership.

But as time goes on the one-man band syndrome looks ever thinner, unsurprising in what was once a collective enterprise, and proud of it.

The Derry man retreating to Derry may re-invigorate the party there, or it might point up local strains and stresses. Stormont 2016 is hardly an arena of triumph.

She concludes rather accurately (if a tad mournfully)…

…as the Republic’s election campaign heats up northern politics look becalmed, the major shift of the last century in questionable shape.

Where the next wave of energy is to come from, and where it will leave unionism versus nationalism, is unguessable.

SF has already (it’s early days) had a step change campaign in the south. Even with the most successful outcome the southern terrain will remain complex and treacherous. SF needs NI to stay inert to avoid the diversion of its resources to the putting out of flames.

No northern news is good news. Unionism has time (if not always the space) to get beyond the deadening culture war memes that have defined and limited it since its inception in the 1880s.

Boneparte Adams may find NI a very different place if and when he ever returns from his attempt to annex Ireland’s equivalent of Moscow.

  • Nevin

    “Sinn Fein has shifted most of its focus and talent”

    I’d have thought that most of the expertise available to SF in the lead-up to 1998 came from the Redemptorists and from UK and Ireland senior civil servants. Once that deal was done such expertise moved elsewhere though some returned during periods of crisis.

    Irish governments have often been willing to engage in anti-unionist activities as was the case during the Athboy conspiracy post-1994. However, when it comes to matters Ireland the major nationalist parties are more than happy to put the boot into SF.

    “Unionism has time (if not always the space) to get beyond the deadening culture war memes that have defined and limited it since its inception in the 1880s.”

    I doubt it. The eye-gouging which Seamus Mallon and I have drawn attention to will most likely continue, not least in relation to key anniversaries in 2016 and 2021. The Pearsean mantra – Ireland unfree shall never be at peace – will keep the home fires burning.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think the media has been blind or in denial of the fact that the post Good Friday Agreement phase has been a new era. For the most part it is even more culturally conservative than the slow moving politicians are, and just as uninspiring, if not less so.

    It’s been more of an evolution into post-Troubles politics where people adapted to a reality without violence than a revolution to something Alasdair McDonnell called “a new phase of politics” where human agency was pushing rapid social change.
    I’ve always defined myself as a republican, and as an Irish republican I see politics in the context of an Ireland of its own making, effectively the cause of Ireland is the cause of its political labours, even if labour hasn’t been made the cause of Ireland by some of her own people.

    I realize others do not here, but whether its some covenant politics or Scots Presbyterian dissenting tradition or the Orange “victory over despotic power” it has to have an active contribution to where we are today, if that’s in networks to Britain, networks within it, or networks beyond those it has to be something that offers something today and here other than the absence of some rival aspiration.

    Revolution is a force in political change, but then so is static evolution as the world just changes around you. Inertia doesn’t mean contentment, nor does it mean resentment.

    “It’s a fair point, although I think Fionnuala underestimates the potential of a successful Brexit campaign, should the DUP agree as a party to accept such a dubious mission”

    I think Mick is trying to point out possible constitutional question stimulus that may come from a Brexit:

    A Brexit does change the constitutional game but it doesn’t change the players in the game. I’m inclined to think of the EU as a separate constitutional question to the Northern Irish one.

    To believe that a Brexit is the nadir of one constitutional position and the zenith of another is probably extremely naive, whether that is Irish nationalism, Ulster Unionism or the Constitutional agnostic or even Europhiles, Europhobes or Eurosceptics. It’s not going to by itself produce a Yugo-Hibernia or Yugo-Ultonia or up here.

    Norway’s “EU by fax” arrangement is down a lot due to its people’s strong social connection to be within the single market. The UK’s distance from the Eurozone and Schengen (the latter in my opinion arguably more to do with its insular reality) shows a sort of unity at a distance short of separation in line with previous EU splits.

    Not being in the EU doesn’t force Greek and Bulgarian Macedonians to assimilate to the domiciliary culture of what the UN recognizes as a different state, and being in the EU doesn’t stop Catalans, Basques and Scots from wanting independence.

    There’s always a flux, there’s always a hybrid and it always occurs organically. You cannot get what you want, but you can get the change that you work for.

    Northern Ireland is quite similar, Unionist desires ensures the Principle of Consent and the connection to London but Nationalist desires have ensured cross-border bodies and even arguably the presence of Home rule in this part of Ireland which was removed upon the Act of Union which had removed the Irish parliament.

    Unionism borrows a little Irish Home Rule, Nationalism borrows a little British parliamentary democracy.

    How a Brexit might change the political vectors on all kinds of other constitutional reforms will depend on the fallout of the event, the perception of the event and the social choice and possibly even the very personalities of governors, but ultimately it does come down to the independent agency of the people.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    The demise of nationalism in N. Ireland began when SF became the dominant force within nationalism. Up to that point, nationalism in N. Ireland was growing stronger each year. All this is reflected in election results. Up to 2002/03 the nationalist vote was increasing at each election, reaching over 45 per cent at peak. Since 2002/03 its been downhill all the way. At the Euro elections in 2014 and the UK general election in 2015, the nationalist vote was only 38 per cent.

    This abysmal performance beggars belief when we consider that nationalism in N. Ireland has had 3 major factors going for it:

    (a) The continually-increasing Catholic share of the N. Ireland population.

    (b) The econmic boom in the Republic (1986-2007 and now resumed since 2011) that has made the Republic not just wealthier than N. Ireland, but wealthier than the U. Kingdom itself.

    (c) The demise of the concept of ‘Britishness’ and growth of nationalism just across the water in Scotland. Who would have predicted in 2002/03 that the nationalist share of the vote in Scotland would exceed that in N. Ireland in little more than a decade?

    What explains the paradox?

    The answer is that the main ‘nationalist’ party in N. Ireland is not a nationalist party at all, but a revolutionary marxist party peddling various brands of junk socialism. Throw in that party’s historic association with terrorism, its sectarianism, and its current overlap (how large an overlap I can’t quite tell) with gangland and gangsterism. Not forgetting, of course, the close links of some of its leading lights with MI5. And to cap it all, that same party, in its pursuit of power in the Republic, seeks to portray that Republic as hell-on-earth. Put all these together, and its little surprise the nationalist vote in N. Ireland is collapsing. Middle-class nationalists are simply turning their backs on it. While it continues to flourish among the underclass in N. Ireland, there isn’t a large enough underclass to go round.

    But, there is hope.

    The best hope for nationalism in N. Ireland is if SF flops in the Republic’s election, and this is quickly followed by the establishment of a more sensible nationalist party in N. Ireland (simiiar, say, to the SNP), one which has no association with violence or gangsterism, which can reach out to the more open-minded sections of the unionist community, and which can articulate the increasingly-strong case for more independence from London and more economic integration within the island of Ireland.

  • mickfealty

    No, that’s not what I meant by the reference to Brexit. I’m inclined to think that whilst it does indeed make things more difficult, but it already was a very difficult task even with both jurisdictions inside the EU.

    I meant it’s a big project for the DUP and a chance to campaign on bigger non NI material. Not, of course, that they couldn’t live with losing. Watch Dodds use his contacts with the London media to enlarge the party’s shadow?

  • Zig70

    For once, I don’t agree with Fionnuala. The change in the South from SF being a pariah party to a potential party of government is fairly huge. The sneering from the southern media has faded. SF will claim to represent the majority in Ireland. They aren’t the party that I’d like to see running the country but you absolutely can’t say they are on the back foot. As for the north, it is in limbo. Politically it is powerless and can stay in limbo until the militant unionist threat is mute.

  • Kevin Breslin

    May I cite the presidence of the unification of West Germany as part of the EEC and East Germany part of another block entirely?

    Now Fionnuala point talked about uninspiring unionism, and there’s the key point uninspiring, do you Mick have any evidence of an inspiring unionism coming from the Leave camp or the DUP or any political capital it might make from a Brexit?

    I heard Nigel Dodds arguement, “the UK’s trade deficit ensures it can get whatever it wants from the EU” inspires in me a mental image of straw clutching. Mike Nesbitt tackles the same issue at a detailed analytical level, with vigilance and pragmatism on the radio, I would think if there were only one politician who could swing the result one way or the other on a Northern Ireland level, with all due respect to Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, Greens, the Southern Parties, the parties based on the island of Britain and whoever can emerge from the civic groups, that person would be Mike Nesbitt.

    The DUP are not going to enlarge their shadow from this, I don’t really know what that means but you insist that it is a positive. This is old hat from the Paisley era and they don’t seem to bring any new abstractions from that. However, I don’t care who he has as personal friends in the UK media, what has that media done to help or even inspire people from Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland?

    The Ulster Unionist position(s), even the Progressive Unionist Position(s), heck even Jamie Bryson’s position on Europe interests me a lot more.

  • Roger

    Some thoughts on answers to the ‘why?’:

    -Although Ireland is, I believe, wealthier…I wonder did the whole economic crisis and ‘bail out’ put people off unification of UKNI with Ireland? I don’t have a personal sense of how UKNI people may or may not have been affected by that. Ireland attracted some pretty unenviable headlines for a protracted period and the whiff of it all probably hasn’t worn off. It also provided ammunition for the pro-UK-union side.

    -The GFA ‘settled’ the former ‘National Question’ for Ireland… Now that it’s settled, my perception is that Ireland no longer lends its energy to unification and perhaps the disinterest has not gone unnoticed in UKNI. This is a topic that Mick Fealty has far more fluently explored than I do here. I think he has made the point that since 1998 successive Irish governments and the Irish political establishment other than SF/IRA appear to have abandoned unification project.

    -Although I oppose SF/IRA, I don’t agree with your final analysis about their demise being the one hope for nationalism’s prospects in UKNI. For better or for worse, outside of UKNI, SF are the only people pressing the unification project. If they don’t succeed there, the prospects of the National Question getting back on the agenda in Ireland seem rather worse to me. And if it doesn’t get back on the agenda, the drift between Irish in Ireland and the (arguably abandoned, albeit that’s possibly too strong a word) Irish in UKNI will possibly just continue.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Agree Mick, but it is not only the DUP but the Shinners too also playing the maximum exposure to the media and enlargement of it’s profile ! But it is not only on the Brexit, they are both playing a smart game with it’s NI Assembly Ministerial Positions and using this advantage to throw the bones to the media mongrels who follow them to further “News Up” both Parties ! All part of the game and electioneering at it’s best !

  • JohnTheOptimist

    One of the reasons that interest in a United Ireland has fallen among the southern electorate is precisely because nationalism in the north is now dominated by SF, with its attendant hangers-on (even if not currently fully approved of by the SF leadership) of gangsters, robbers, bigots, kneecappers, and various Lenin-lookalike revolutionaries all prattling the same marxist gibberish they learned at Queens in the 60s and 70s. Throw in SF’s desire to make Ireland the Venezuela of Europe, and its hardly surprising that the middle-class electorate south of the border have switched off. Things would be different if northern nationalism had been dominated by an SNP-like party. The Provisional SF/IRA project began in December 1968. The reality is that, despite demographic and economic developments that should have favoured it, a United Ireland is much further away today than it was then. Arlene Foster was right about this. From the point of view of advancing the nationalist cause, SF/PIRA have been a total failure, in both their military and political manifestations. They should be wound up asap, and a new nationalist party formed along SNP lines.

  • Nevin

    “Unionism today is hardly inspiring, but it faces parties running on empty, minus the dynamism and vision that once set the pace.

    If unionist votes hold up, it will be clear that lack of vision has been rewarded rather than penalised.

    It will mean their voters accept that unionists are dug into structures whose originating idea they dislike and whose spirit they flout, but where they enjoy jobs and patronage.”

    Is Fionnuala a Hume groupie? I’m relieved I drew my inspiration from Ray Davey, one of the founders of Corrymeela, rather than from the political street theatre antics of the likes of Paisley and Hume, antics that set folk here at each other’s throats; ‘setting the pace’ ran us into the buffers.

    Political reform led to the removal of patronage from unionist, nationalist and socialist councillors; more recent changes in the form of super-councils appear to have reversed that process.

    All the local parties and both governments have and will continue to flout the co-operative spirit of the 1998 Agreement so it’s silly to poke the eye of any one of them.

    Within pan-nationalism, if SF has a skeleton crew, then the SDLP has little more than an arm and a leg. Up on the north coast, SF is the go-to party, not the SDLP, for those confronted by the vagaries of bureaucracy.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If they are both playing the smart game why are their votes going down?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Kevin, the other political parties are not at the races against these two media obsessed profile parties ! Click on Northern Ireland Assembly Social Media and see what Ministers are pictured doing this or that or opening this with the media ! SDLP/Alliance the odd appearance. UUP (Well they ran off into media profile wilderness). My point is that both these parties are miles ahead off the chasing pack when it comes to media exposure. They know how to use the tools at their disposal especially when coming up to elections ! They employ Media Public Relations Consultants !

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Has the penny dropped then for Ms O’Connor? 1998 was a fundamental snookering of Northern nationalism.

    The scale of that was obscured for some by a lot of self-confidence and a lot of bluster from nationalist politicians. accompanied by predictable defensiveness and defeatism from many unionist politicians. But the reality is, 1998 ironically kicked the traditional ‘Hume’ nationalist project into the long grass. It based our mechanisms of power-sharing on the assumption of very approximate 50/50 ethno-national blocks. Most of the demographic shift from 65/35 to 60/40 and near 50/50 actually happened pre-1998 and it’s levelled off since. There can be quite a few minor shifts without that overall picture actually changing. That gives stability and predictability, which are good things for Northern Ireland. So can we really be surprised nationalism has not ‘progressed’ in some way? Where exactly was it going to get to?

    I think O’Connor’s analysis is based on a common mistake among those with broadly nationalist worldview – to equate progress, sugar, spice and all things nice with movement towards a united Ireland. Yet those things are nothing to do with sovereignty – they are goods whatever nation we find ourselves part of. It’s not clear why pushing for exit from the UK would necessarily get more of these goods. Nationalism has reached a natural stopping point: we are at the end of the endgame.

    Nationalism has long assumed itself to represent ‘progress’ – rather irritatingly for us progressives with British loyalties. It has got away with that, largely because unionist politicians make such a good job of looking conservative. But it can’t expect a public these days that believes less and less in either British or Irish nationalism to equate united Ireland-ism with a progressive agenda. Quite the opposite – having reached the settlement we have between the two communities, pushing a united Ireland agenda now looks like a wish to renege on the settlement as soon as possible, to gain some kind of upper hand in the ethnic tug of war. When the present represents a truce, it seems needlessly aggressive and destabilising.

    United Ireland-ism as anything more than a distant aspiration is actually incompatible with the cross-community-consent ethos behind the GFA. Nationalism needs to get its head around that. The problem is, nationalism is now ‘led’ by SF – so there is little chance of the kind of honest, calm self-reflection needed. SF needs its people to feel discomfort, the victims of a huge historical injustice, otherwise it may as well pack up its bags. The contentment of the people with the status quo is the enemy for them.

    The SDLP ought to be the thought-leaders on this. But the rise of SF since 1998 has made it hard for the SDLP, if it wanted to, to lead nationalism in the new direction it needs to take (I would argue, back towards the original Devlin / Fitt values of the SDLP and away from the greener version which Hume led). It has felt the need to compete on greenness with SF. But all that has obscured where traditional nationalism really is now – it has nowhere to go for the foreseeable future.

    N Ireland has been trapped waiting for this nationalist Godot for way too long. Time I hope now to break free of the suffocating spell.

  • whatif1984true

    In any discussion or husting the aim is to press home ONE point. It is well documented that listeners will remember only one point for a reasonable period of time.
    SF’s one point is UI.
    What is their next big idea after UI?
    How long can they continue without one. They have peaked and the only way is down.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I know with regards to the European referendum when it comes to the media, less is more. Everytime someone from the Leave or Remain campaign runs their mouths in the media it doesn’t score any goals but own goals.

  • Kronsteen

    Increased normalisation (wasn’t that the word?) makes it increasingly clear that Northern Ireland is, by and large, a fine place to live. And a fine place to live doesn’t lend itself to driving people into polling booths to get rid of it.

    The precursor to increased normalisation was for the IRA to stop blowing things up and shooting people and screaming all over the world when its members got arrested/killed, which it has done.

    This has led, in time, inevitably, to a more relaxed form of unionism appearing. Unionist backs are moving away from the walls.

    You can see that emerging in the resurgent UUP; it was briefly right in front of us with the NI21 project (I’m predicting an end to that party in the not too distant future for one reason or another); and the DUP will, very slowly, start to move towards the centre (particularly post election) and away from the biblical buffoonery that bedevils chunks of the party.

    In short, the IRA and various concomitant loyalist paramilitary outfits stopped killing people which allowed the security forces to step back and the rest of us to get on with our lives.

    Worth pointing out that the IRA is a way more failed project than the Northern Ireland state, but that’s for another day.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    SF through its actions secures the Union much more effectively than unionism ever did 🙂

  • MainlandUlsterman

    sorry about the drift but maybe that’s quite a small price to pay. The “national question” doesn’t need to be on the agenda – it just causes trouble and it’s pointless anyway.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    unionism’s not very inspiring right now, which is a shame. But ultimately unionism doesn’t need to inspire on the border question, it just needs people to not see it as much of a problem.

  • chrisjones2

    “Sinn Fein has shifted most of its focus and talent (which may explain that odd screw up in FST) to the Republic”

    Must be why they are doing so well there

  • Jollyraj

    Shocking lack of strength in depth.

  • chrisjones2

    “Northern Ireland is, by and large, a fine place to live”

    Unless you:

    * are carrying a foetus with FFA
    * are a pregnant rape victim
    * are a woman who doest believe God has ordained you to spend your life barefoot and chained to a cooker
    * are seeking employment outside a call centre or the civil service
    * want to start a business
    * live in North Belfast, West Belfast or West of the Bann
    * believe in dinosaurs
    * dont hate other fellow citizens because of their race, community background, political belief or sexuality

  • chrisjones2

    The snookering happened long before 1998 as many Northern Catholics decided they wanted to live in the UK not some Irish Cuba. The problem is that the Unionist Parties have never realised this and reached out to form a new politcs

  • chrisjones2

    Now now …I am sure the leadership is still getting some covert help in ‘writing its speeches’ from its London firends to help keep the sheep safely penned

  • Jollyraj

    I would say Irish Nationalism generally was a largely 20thC penomenon, and even then based on 19thC ideals and worldviews. That ship seems to have sailed, to most reasonable observers, which I suppose is why the drive to a UI has ground to a slow, undramatic halt, not with a bang but a whimper. Even the few dinosaurs who still battle to keep the flame alive cannot seem to cone up with coherent arguments as to why it once seemed to matter, and certainly not anything resembling why it would be relevant or useful in modern times. Perhaps it is time our politicians caught up to the present and starting focussing on the issues that actually make a difference to our lives in the present.

  • Jollyraj

    One has to suspect it is very much in their interest to maintain the union in perpetuity. What on earth would be the point of SF, long term, if there were no border. I would say that the SDLP is perhaps the only major party in NI with a genuine interest in removing the border.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Totally agree with that analysis, it may/does not need to inspire on the border question, but that’s no excuse for it offering nothing inspirational on anything else.

  • Kronsteen

    Completely agree with you. I have zero time for bigots, bible bashers and deluded narrow minded morons of all types.

    I’m talking in relative terms, in that it is now a better place to live than it was during the Troubles and that there are many worse places to live. It’s very far from perfect, but then there is no perfect.

    I’m certainly no fan of any proponent of anything on your list and you make a fair point.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    indeed it isn’t
    I for one think we should be looking more to national political parties, or more politically-based local ones, to take up the baton. We then might be able to have a chance of progressive coalition government with a sense of mission and dynamism instead of the stale ‘survival mode’ holding pattern we have now. I have argued elsewhere for making a rolling series of coalitions and oppositions more of a fact of life, where possible, by an adjustment of the current mechanisms.

  • Roger

    We certainly agree on the attributes of SF/IRA and we both agree with Arlene.

    But, for the sorts of reasons I mentioned, I don’t agree with your analysis. I don’t actually believe, for better or for worse, that the Irish electorate pays that much attention to who the Northern Ireland electorate goes for. I do think Mick’s views on the GFA having opened up a new era of disinterest from Ireland in the affairs of UKNI carry a lot of weight. I’m curious about the economic stuff too that I mentioned but don’t know how much that matters.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Radical change can be made on a local level and probably needs to.

    To hear the leader of the UUP talk about Dublin being networked to London than Belfast is, does really bring into focus whether the big U Unionist parties are really taking advantage of the 33 times its population on the island to the east as part of a nation.

    I’ve never trusted a “system” to produce political change when the politicians cannot, and the blocking of the Opposition Bill kind of shows that. The mechanism I feel is never going to change, people can only change the system by changing the politicians and electing politicians who offer reform. The extent of Mechanical Engineering available to the system ultimately comes down to the voters picking the right people.

  • ted hagan

    I was convinced from early on that Sinn Fein were organised, progressive, smart and savvy with a well of talent to draw from and that because of this they would bring something fresh and invigorating to Northern Ireland.. Over the past few years they’ve proved me wrong. I think the problems of performing two very different shows, north and south, is taking its toll, as the article points out.

  • ted hagan

    What would be the point of SF if there was no border?
    Well, only that they’d probably be the biggest party in Ireland.

  • ted hagan

    UKNI? What a horrible term. Is that what they say at the golf club? First I’ve ever seen it.

  • ted hagan

    Northern Ireland has had a hell of a lot of money from Europe, and people know that. The North needs all the help it can get, so the DUP should tread warily with one eye on Scotland, whose stance will be much more interesting.

  • ted hagan

    Those two unionists rudely tittering like kids over an Arlene lookalike says much about the maturity of unionism, as does Gregory Campbell’s puerile antics in recent years.

  • Nevin

    Ted, the move from being a party of protest to being a party of government may also have taken its toll.

  • Kev Hughes

    I generally agree with Fionnuala’s prognosis but some below/above’s discussion of the ‘demise’ of nationalism is a little over-stated.

    ‘She concludes rather accurately (if a tad mournfully)…

    …as the Republic’s election campaign heats up northern politics look becalmed, the major shift of the last century in questionable shape.

    Where the next wave of energy is to come from, and where it will leave unionism versus nationalism, is unguessable.’

    The numbers up North for a UI aren’t there yet. In many ways, SF likes it that way too. The South has been through a torrid few years so a restless North for the Southern electorate would be akin, in the eyes of that electorate, to the BREXIT debate to many here on the continent; it’s ultimately a petty squabble toying at the edges when there are far more important matters to be getting on with (refugees, sovereign debt, the economy in general).

    ‘SF has already (it’s early days) had a step change campaign in the south. Even with the most successful outcome the southern terrain will remain complex and treacherous. SF needs NI to stay inert to avoid the diversion of its resources to the putting out of flames.’

    This is true, pretty much what I’ve said above. A restless North isn’t good for it’s political ambition in the South.

    ‘No northern news is good news. Unionism has time (if not always the space) to get beyond the deadening culture war memes that have defined and limited it since its inception in the 1880s.’

    Yeah, you’re right, unionism has this golden opportunity to actually make this place and it’s political terrain something like what they spout at party conferences, but I’m not holding my breath that they actually will.

    Reasons for the decline or lack of growth in the nationalist electorate include, but are not limited to:

    i) the tail for young people voting. No matter what your background, the voters don’t come on straight away from 18 onwards, so you’ve a skewed vote. While those older, once they have the habit, always come out. Hence, the elderly have a larger impact on a vote compared to younger voters. It’s not a Northern thing, it’s an electoral matter.

    ii) This is not in any way empirical, but I would imagine that emigration would also play its part perhaps more for nationalism in places such as the sticks? I expect people to come back and say how but if you agree that there is a correlation between Catholics voting for Nationalist candidates and being the majority for 30 or younger then I would imagine that they’re far more likely to emigrate for work than say the cohort of 50+ who are in the main voting for unionist candidates.

    iii) The big one for me is there’s that lack of debate within Nationalism at the moment. I’m sorry, but the SDLP is dead. It’s hanging on in a few areas and it’s, like any political party, a tribe. And that tribe is getting smaller and smaller. Where have the SDLP’s voters gone? Go to a RC graveyard, they’re there. So Nationalism needs new ideas, friction, people to have arguments over ideas and detail and just hurling from the ditch at one another. So we need FF, but we need FG up here too.

  • Gopher

    Does nationalism have anything to say ever. The piece is Mono cognitive nationalism at its finest you take off the skirt its Brian Feeneys next Column or if you want to read it in a quirky posh accent Eamon Mallie wrote it.

    What on earth did any rational person expect after 1998 except everyone to knuckle down and make this place work. There is no legacy from John Hume, John Hume being suckered is a joke even within nationalism now. The SDLP slipped off the Irish radar is a laughable statement. 1998 meant everyone had to stand on their own two feet on a level playing field and the *voters* did not want the SDLP. Sorry mono cognitive nationalism its called democracy. Its no one fault but the SDLP’s .

    The fundamental problem nationalism has if you vote for it you get a united Ireland dont matter if Beyonce stands thats what you get.

  • Paddy Reilly

    An abundantly false assertion arrived at by defining Nationalist as SF and SDLP only and the vote as the first preference vote only.

    But if we look at the redistribution of the 1st preference vote of Anna Lo in the 2014 Euros, we find that 44.6% went to the SDLP, 34.2% refused to transfer to anyone, and just 21.3% transferred to a Unionist candidate.

    So we don’t need another Nationalist Party: we have Sinn Féin, which is Nationalist full on, we have the SDLP, which is Nationalist lite, and we have the Alliance, which expresses no preference but in which people of a very moderate Nationalist disposition can feel at home.

    This would explain the very jaundiced view of Alliance in some quarters, such as this:- http://victims.org.uk/frazer2/?p=356

    Alliance is not a Nationalist Party: it is agnostic on the Union, but it is a party in which it is possible to be ever so slightly Nationalist, and in certain situations, ever so slightly Nationalist is all that is needed.

    For example if you transfer to the SDLP, or don’t transfer at all, you may be facilitating the election of a SDLP MLA, which then means you are aiding Martin McGuinness to become 1st Minister.

    And obviously the election of a SF 1st Minister, or an SDLP Euro MP instead of a UUP one, will lead to a total collapse of confidence in the future of the Union.

  • Nevin

    “The debacle turned u-turn on benefits could hardly have been handled worse. ..

    McGuinness has had to front up and fill the gap with folksy quasi-charisma, maintaining some sense of momentum by modelling calm and patience while Peter Robinson flatly refused to show leadership.

    But as time goes on the one-man band syndrome looks ever thinner, unsurprising in what was once a collective enterprise, and proud of it.”

    Fionnuala is critical of the leadership of the five major parties but her critique of SF leadership is surreal. Martin could hardly be described as a one man band in a one island, one nation, one army council governed organisation. Nationalist focus is going to be on the growth and expansion of Strand 2 and the cherry-picking of Strand 3 when it’s not eye-gouging unionists. Why she would expect Peter or any unionist leader to facilitate or support any nationalist or anti-unionist project beggars belief.

    The best that unionists and nationalists can hope for in a mutual veto structure is some relatively benign horse-trading.

    The SDLP got rolled over on the SpAd affair, not so much by any genius of the TUV but rather by the gritty and vocal determination of one of the victims, Ann Travers.

    “Where the next wave of energy is to come from, and where it will leave unionism versus nationalism, is unguessable.”

    The previous wave swept away over 3500 lives and left behind tens of thousands of injured and bereaved. Will we see the like again?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    well, it says something about those people, I’m not sure you can extend it wholesale to unionism. Better to take on the best examples of your opponent’s thinking, not the easy pickings, of which there are many on both sides.

  • Jollyraj

    Ah come on now, Ted. Putting aside their nominal chronic yearning for the removal of the border, what other things do Sinn Fein offer. Marxism-lite? The party does well as a party of protest, being a hub for all kinds of malcontents whose unhappiness can be funneled towards the vague enemy of ‘the Brits’, since that gets the voters out, but what else do they stand for beyond ‘hate thy neighbour’. Is it really just a money-making business these days, or what is their purpose in winning elections? Certainly one has to wonder just what is going on, given the recent revelations in the Flanagan libel case.

  • ted hagan

    I am simply stating a fact. Without the border they would probably be the biggest party in Ireland. They’re already have a large presence in the South and a bigger one in the North. Why you think they would disappear with the elimination of the border I don’t understand.
    I”m not going to defend Sinn Fein since I’m not an SF supporter.

  • Roger

    Alas I’m not the real genius behind the acronym here… I picked it up from some one else.
    It appealed to me because it emphasises the nature of the place in question (a subordinate jurisdiction) in a way that NI alone just doesn’t.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I also think the idea that unionism was demoralised was a tad exaggerated – wishful thinking. It’s always possible to find negativity expressed if you want to, when looking at an innately pessimistic bunch of people. If Ms O’Connor cared to look in the right places post 1998, she’d also have a very self-confident and quite excited group of unionists embracing the new GFA settlement (even while getting annoyed at SF’s jerking it around on decommissioning at that time).

    The feeling was that the agreement was a good one for unionists – so much so that the DUP had to do a volte face on its initial opposition to it. Had unionists really felt as defeated as commentators like O’Connor liked to portray us, that would not have happened. We’re very capable of rejecting arrangements en masse that we can’t live with – but compare 1985-6 to 1998-9, it’s chalk and cheese.

    But it didn’t suit a lot of agendas to tell that other story of the journeys of ordinary unionists. We’d been portrayed as unimaginative stick-in-the-muds for far too long for that media trope to be dropped quite so quickly. The flexibility and intelligence of Trimble and his team, only briefly apprehended by nationalist commentators and not fully understood, was quickly forgotten.

    I think too many people took Susan McKay’s book way too seriously 😉 I thought it recycled cliches and was short on genuine insight into where people were at. But it got praised by unionist politicians wanting to seem humble and self-aware, capturing the mood of the peace process; and of course it was lapped up by old school nationalists who enjoyed having their picture of miserable, negative unionists confirmed. Thus is a good book review achieved.