Building a bigger tent should still be a priority for Nationalism

Nationalism stands strong in the new Assembly with more seats, more votes and is now in a position to deliver more.

I watched from the Titanic Count Centre on Friday, victory after victory for the Nationalist parties. Sinn Fein’s tsunami started in West Belfast and swept the province leaving opponents from People Before Profit to the UUP reeling. The SDLP also had some resilience and managed to gain a seat in Lagan Valley and came close to winning another in Strangford.

Both parties had a very good day at the office and it was a refreshing change of pace to explain a rising Nationalist tide, rather than a falling one.

So, now Sinn Fein in particular as the leaders of Nationalism have the mandate what are they going to do with it?

There are some key outstanding issues on legacy and the Irish Language Act that need to be addressed, there is also the position of Arlene Foster in the short term.

How you get a resolution to these issues will no doubt be teased out in the coming talks process that we are set to enter.

However, there is a more fundamental issue that should be addressed and is how Nationalism conducts itself from this point on.

Being in a position of electoral strength gives you two options in politics, you can be magnanimous and reach out or you can hunker down and ignore critics plus those who are outside the fold.

Now that Nationalism is now on a near parity with Unionism in the Assembly, it is critical that the same mistakes are not repeated.

There must be an open approach towards the future and an attempt to reach out beyond a comfort zone, building on some the work already done by Martin McGuinness and John Hume.

There should rightly be happiness, but no triumphalism. For those voters who did not opt for a Nationalist candidate, they must be shown that whilst there will be disagreements, there is respect for their choice and at all times they will be heard.

Also there should be a huge degree of pride in where Nationalism has come in such a short period of time but also a desire for consolidation combined with a hunger for more.

If Nationalists can win in Lagan Valley and be competitive in Strangford then there is room for growth, particularly in the 2019 Local Elections.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein should remember, Arlene Foster’s approach played a huge role in delivering this victory and that approach cannot be replicated by either party.

If others choose to go down a narrow path, that’s a matter for them but I know neither party will win a race to the bottom with reactionary elements of other parties.

The hard work starts here for both parties and the Nationalist tent is a lot bigger today than it was on Thursday.

I have no doubt there is room for more people and this coalition has many people who can join it in the months ahead.

Both parties have made a good start in this endeavour and only by following this approach and recognising that this is an Assembly of minorities can a winning coalition be built for the future.

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  • DP Moran

    Not much room in the tent for Conservative Nationalists. Two lib/left parties one in particular with an insatiable appetite for the legalisation of abortion north and south.

  • Gavin Smithson

    Socially conservative Catholics need their own party or join the SDLP and make it such a party.

  • Lucian Fletcher

    Judging by some comments on here, I think some of the old mistakes made by unionists over-playing their own hand will be replicated by nationalists in the coming term. They say you learn from your mistakes. But it is harder (though preferable) to learn from the mistakes of others.

  • burnboilerburn

    Plenty of room in the tent for you Mo Chara. If you don’t support ‘abortion’, don’t have one. If you are against equal marraige, don’t marry someone of the same sex. If you believe in Our Lord and the Gospel, live your life according to your interpretation of same. No law can force you to act outside your conscience.

  • burnboilerburn

    In fairness its early days and nationalism is still on a high. It will not be a mirror image of DUP type triumphalism in any manner or form.

  • Tom Smith

    Adams has now added the SoS just below Arlene Foster’s name on the ‘List of Unacceptables’ that Sinn Fein will not have about the place.

    Take yourself off there’s no room in the tent.

    In the weeks to come I fear too that the Easter Bunny will be on shaky ground. Will chocolate eggs be replaced a lilly-wearing leprechauns perhaps? Chocolate-ar-la!

  • grumpy oul man

    Excellent article, if Nationism want to forward project UI then they must show a willingness to compromise and respect for others.
    We know that for some unionists nothing will ever be enough but many people who are at present in the unionist camp could be persauded to switch sides on the Union/ Ui issue.
    Also since project fear is the main (only) arrow in unionisms quiver, to misquote Arlene thats a crocodile we dont want to feed.

  • Lucian Fletcher

    Well we will see. I want the place to work.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Nationalists won’t make the same mistakes as unionism, especially the DUP’s unionism. If unionists are feeling fearful at present then its up to nationalists to show them they have nothing to be fearful of and go over and above of what is expected of them. No gloating, no triumphalism, just good governance and equality. That is all. Conduct themselves exactly like Martin McGuiness did when he was DFM and unionists will have nothing to be fearful of. We all share this place, breath the same air and want what is best for our respective families and loved ones so lets get on with doing that in government. But there needs to be a commitment to equality and integrity going forward that we didn’t get before from the DUP

  • Fear Éireannach

    A United Ireland is simple normality. Nationalist need to portray it as such and prevent its characterisation as “extreme“.

  • Gopher

    Both parties? There is one Republican party and a Nationalist party that was kept alive by unionist transfers. The election proved the Nationalist people have a very narrow mindset not availing themselves of the multitude of options and voting for a party that was incompetent in government.

  • DP Moran

    Abortion is murder. I find it same it strange how Sinn Fein is now calling for equality and rights for everyone yet those rights and protections will not be extended to the child in the womb.

    “If you don’t support abortion don’t have one”

    If you don’t support rape don’t rape anyone,
    If you don’t support murder don’t kill anyone.
    If you don’t like slavery don’t enslave anyone.

    See where that argument leads?

  • Fear Éireannach

    Restrictions on abortion are not designed to impose a view but rather to respect life. It is a bit like saying if you like speeding, then speed.

  • Jag

    Well said David. I pass towns like Newry where the Gaelic street names take precedence over the English street name, where there’s a strong Nationalist/Republican flegging business; I detect a sense of “this is what you did to us, now we’re going to do it to you”.

    Friday, maybe Saturday, were understandable for celebration, but Nationalist/Republicans now need to hunker down and “deliver”, not in the airy-fairy manner of statements over the weekend, but with concrete policies and governance that demonstrably make life better for everyone here.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    I know mate. Why didn’t they just vote for the parties that you wanted them to vote for. I mean, who do they think they are?

  • mac tire

    No room in the Alliance or SDLP tent either, then – they don’t see Brokenshire as neutral and view him as compromised because of his closeness to the DUP and his alternative facts.

    This is not new news.

  • Paul Culloty

    They may have already begun to build that tent, given that their social policies see both parties give and receive transfers from “Others”. The next step is perhaps to move from the cultural aspect of reunification, and highlight the economic arguments for a 32-county state. A significant proportion of voters North of the Border identify as “Northern Irish”, so basing the appeal on cross-border efficency post-Brexit would seem the most prudent manner to press for a border poll.

  • Gopher

    They voted for a party that was demonstrably poor in government which suggests it was not a protest vote but one of intent. They voted for exactly who I thought they would vote for. That’s their choice, the amusing thing is SDLP shills joining in the victory celebration that has actually got me laughing out loud.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I find it terrifying that throughout the entire campaign no one mentioned health, education, the economy. You know real stuff

    It is astonishing the amount of time and energy we all give these cultural issues.

    Our politicians seem comfortable arguing about flags and all the other groundhog issues but when it comes to real politics like dealing with the upcoming collapse of the GP service they shrug their shoulders and go feck if I know…

    Cancer does not care what side of the national question you are on.

  • ScottishClive22

    I think it is because they are quite narrow-minded and as they are only a regional assembly they assume the ‘grown-ups’ will deal with it. One side wants the grown-ups to be in Dublin and the other on London, but both sides seem happy to let others take difficult choices.

  • burnboilerburn

    Brian, can you point to a TV interview or debate where you can honestly say that the host genuinely tried to steer the participants away from such headline grabbing issues? If the hosts and various media outlets took the oxygen out of the Green/Orange discussion, the candidates would have no choice but to discuss the issues.

  • burnboilerburn

    We all do. And now that Unionism and Nationalism are even stevens, it probably will work.

  • Ryan

    Last time I looked the SDLP were against abortion, hence why I voted for them. Abortion is murder of unborn children. If a pregnant woman was murdered you wouldn’t dare say her baby was “non human” or “Just a foetus”. Regardless of what the mother wants, they are babies that want to grow and not to die and deserve protection and respect. We wouldn’t tolerate mothers killing their babies after birth, we shouldn’t tolerate it before birth either. Of course nothing is said of the mothers who deeply regret abortions and who live with serious mental health issues after, those women are forgotten by the abortionists due to their sick agenda of killing babies. And no, Abortion is not “progressive”, its sick.

  • Croiteir

    Completely disagree, that sort of reaching out to unionism gave us a cycle of falling nationalist votes. Once SF caught itself on, and started to stand up to unionism it got the votes out. Once again the nationalist people saw someone who could deliver. All nationalism has to do now is stonewall, if unionism likes the game of all duck or no dinner let them have a full diet of no dinner. every day a fight at Stormont. Nationalists can survive a “Northern” sic) Ireland that is not working, after all that is what they said it would do, fail. Make sure it does. It is up to unionist to get it to work, and to do that they need to placate nationalists, so the question for unionists is this, “How far are you willing to go to placate nationalists?” You need nationalists – we do not need you.

  • NotNowJohnny

    To be fair, John O’Dowd didn’t say that there was no room in the rent for the SOS but rather that he would be part of the negotiations but he wouldn’t be acceptable as chair. Hardly a surprising conclusion to come to.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Indeed. What was a bad day for unionism may turn out to be a good day for the union.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Which definition of ‘murder’ are you using here?

  • JohnTheOptimist

    This is a very good point. I agree with every word of it. But we need to ask why its so. Part of the reason is that neither side of the N. Ireland political spectrum wishes to draw attention to the fact Northern Ireland is falling behind the Republic in all of the areas you mention. That the N. Ireland economy is falling behind is hardly a matter of dispute – I doubt if even the most staunch unionist would deny that. What is less well known is that its falling behind in social areas too.

    Take education. The 2015 PISA results were published last December. The Republic scored higher in every subject and for both genders. Taking the aggregate score (2 genders x 3 subjects), the Republic came 3rd highest (out of 34) in Europe. N. Ireland was way down in mid-table position.

    Take health. Its a mantra that Northern Ireland has a world-class health service in the form of the NHS, whereas the Republic has a third world health service, But, the reality is somewhat different. Since the mid-1990s mortality rates have been falling much faster in the Republic than in Northern Ireland. In 1995 mortality rates (adjusted for age) were 8% higher in the Republic – by 2015 they were almost 10% lower. In 1995 life expectancy was almost one year higher in Northern Ireland – by 2015 the reverse was the case. The difference in mortality rates was especially striking in middle-age groups. Between ages 35 and 65 mortality rates in N. Ireland were in most cases 25%-40% higher. Infant mortality rates and suicide rates were also much higher in Northern Ireland. SLAN surveys carried out on both sides of the border also indicate that persons in the Republic age generally healthier.

    So, the average young person in Northern Ireland is getting a worse education than his/her counterpart in the Republic and the average middle-aged or old person in Northern Ireland has worse health and is more likely to die. Yet the politicians on both sides in Northern Ireland are silent on e matter.

    It is obvious why the unionist parties would not want to highlight these issues. But, surely a genuine nationalist party would be highlighting them. SF can’t, however, because their objective of winning a majority for reunification in the north is secondary to their objective of ousting FF or FG in the Republic. A key plank in their political platform down there is that the FG and FF governments have failed in these areas, in contrast to the glittering success achieved north of the border under SF stewardship. If the Republic’s electorate were aware that the Republic was outperforming Northern Ireland in education and health, as well as the economy, and that SF, having been in government for over a decade in Northern Ireland, had at least partial responsibility for Northern Ireland’s abysmal performance, it would be curtains for their hopes of a political breakthrough in the Republic.

  • woodkerne

    You may not have noticed but nationalism-republicanism is a political continuum, a bloc, if you will reflecting the existence, in proportionate strength, demographically, in equivalence to % of seats won in the Assembly, of a nationalist community in the north of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The interests and objectives of SF/SDLP coincide or at least closely overlap.

  • William Kelly

    You cannot begin to grapple with the ‘real stuff’ when the possibility of viable government based on mutual respect is next to non-existent. With the ‘power carve-up’ between the parties of government, Arlene Foster seems to see herself still living in the era of ‘not an inch’ politics, and with offense to the nationalist community thrown-in for good measure. She appears to be trapped in such a mindset and I believe the smaller parties see her manner as inimical to enduring, productive power relationships. The real stuff, i.e. effective, long-term planning of budgets, of health and education services etc, could hardly be contemplated without sustained positive co-operation in government. Bringing this issue to resolution was surely what the election was about.

  • Karl

    Which party wasnt demonstrably poor in government?

  • Karl

    A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.

  • Gopher


  • Old Mortality

    Sounds to me like a commendation of private healthcare as much as anything else. You get what you don’t pay for. As it should be, perhaps, but it would be interesting to find how much lower mortality rates are for those using private healthcare.
    I do get the impression, however, that there is as much dissatisfaction with healthcare in the RoI as in the UK.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Indeed. Also I know from slugger when we do a post on flags it gets 10 times the readership of a post on education.

  • Stiofán Ó Cinnéide

    The result last week was a backing of equality and human rights for all citizens by the electorate big man. The news at Tuam is a dark reminder of the days your type want to bring us back to. People don’t want that past they want a future based on mutual respect and equality, if you are opposed to moving forward you might find yourself more at home with your fellow dinosaurs in the DUP.

  • Vince

    I think that’s a slight over-simplification re: SDLP. Their vote share went up in 11 of 18 constituencies and there were probably only 2 successful seats that were significantly influenced by Unionist transfers – Pat Catney in LV (no shame in that surely?) & D Kelly in U Bann. In 2 constituencies where Unionist transfers could have made a difference to them (WB & FST), the opportunity did not quite arise. In fact with ~ 650 extra votes spread across 3 constituencies they could have come out with 15 seats (WB, FST, Strangford).

  • John Collins

    Why should the SDLP not be reasonably happy. Not even Sinn Fein retained the same number of seats they had in the last Assembly, despite the one in six reduction in seats.

  • scepticacademic

    Isn’t it already?

  • John Collins

    Should we not all try to get away from the attitude that anything the other side does to promote ‘its culture’ has to be immediately seen as an attack on the other. I try to speak the Irish Language, like going to GAA Games and enjoy Irish Music sessions. However I am sure, like thousands of others on all sides, I follow these interests, which just happen to be mine, because I enjoy them and not because I want to annoy anybody else.

  • mickfealty

    More that we’re sitting the sheugh rather than “on the one road”, and apparently feeling very happy and content about it.

    Try talking to a few doctors, nurses and patients about what it feels like for those with their heads jammed under the bogwater?

    I’d be willing to guess that the first opposition party to weaponise health (and education) will clean up.

  • Ray Lawlor

    I think you need to read the question again.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When’s Fianna Fáil coming over David?

    You’ve got Social Democrats and Labour Party over on the other side already!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Rubbish, if SDLP reached out to unionists or unionists reached out to the SDLP to save them from a third seat to the DUP in Lagan Valley, who are we to be dis-generous.

    These Lagan Valley unionists may not want Irish unity, but at least they can trust a politician who does to represent them in the here and now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s plenty of room for independents of that opinion to stand, but they’d rather conserve their money.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Socially conservative Catholics (and like minded individuals of other faiths) can set up their own party and evangelize if they need to.

    They could evangelize their nationalism within the DUP if they want. 😀

  • Fear Éireannach

    Well said JohnTheOptimist. SF are indeed trying to give the impression that services in the ROI are unacceptable rather than identifying the changes that have taken place.
    There is a further issue, there is debate in South about the health services, the economy and so on. This debate is largely lacking in the North. Even on this forum there is a tendency to quote this or that statistic about the ROI (e.g. debt) by people who don’t know the less satisfactory figure for the UK. Likewise there is little realistic debate on other matters like education.

  • Muiris

    Well spoken/posted David.

  • Fear Éireannach

    The street signs in Newry have Gaelic and English in exactly the same font, which should be the case everywhere. Does equality bother you?

  • Croiteir

    Cart before horse thinking, for the first time in many years the nationalist vote came out, this was because they had something to vote for, a strong clear leadership stating that they were going to stand up for the nationalist people, it was not because the SDLP wanted you to vote for them to get the UUP or vice versa. You try to present nationalism stating and promoting their position as being ungenerous? Now that is rubbish.

  • Croiteir

    They have 6 months to do so, if they do not do it at Arbour Hill or their Ad Fheis this year forget it, why do the northern nationalist need them now?

  • Gopher

    Yeah sorry SF were rubbish in government eclipsed by the DUP but rubbish none the less. To me some of the new SDLP crop seem nice people, it must be soul destroying for them

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    Aye, awful for a British minister to be pro-British. Maybe a return to normality after the treachery of Blair et al, and only highlighting the abnormality of parties in the local Alliance of Treachery.

  • Gopher

    You can add East Londonderry to Upper Bann and Lagan Valley and a group effort in South down. I thought Pat Catney set a good example in humility. Lets face it 4 seats would have been a big loss. and one Eastwood would not survive. Something to bear in mind going forward but the SDLP dude on the radio today had forgot it already.

  • Vince

    They need to look upon it as a near miss/death, learn lessons quickly and do better next time. Agree that they have zero room for complacency. Eastwood campaigned well and many of their key arguments were excellent. Campaigns and organisations in certain areas leave a huge amount to be desired and look amateurish (not N Belfast, W Tyrone or L Valley).

  • Mark Petticrew

    They’re still booked in to participate in the 2019 council elections, but the virtual non-existence – as far as I can see – of Fianna Fáil north of the border makes me suspect that there’ll be a climb down from that commitment made back at the party’s 2014 ard fheis.

    I’d be disappointed to see them not follow through on their northern venture, for I wanted to observe how they, “The Republican Party” as they call themselves, would operate in a place where Irish republicanism is largely the realm of Sinn Féin. How would this 26 county brand go down with a 6 county audience?

  • Kevin Breslin

    We don’t need them, but competition pushes people to be better.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When you stand in an election your primary role is to represent the people in the here and now, even if they don’t share 100% of your aspirations.

    The SDLP has to reflect the type of Ireland they want in the executive chamber as do Sinn Féin. Then people can make a judgement over what contribution they can make to an all-Ireland state.

    Of course they would need to be looking at Dáil Eireann successes and failures simultaneously though.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s a distinction to be drawn between reaching out to the DUP and reaching out to the unionist people.

    I don’t understand how people can be so obtuse about this. We all know what it is like to have the representativesame of the other side poking you in the eye….how can we be so lacking in empathy.

    We have this opportunity, to show that unionists don’t need a unionist veto, don’t need need a unionist majority.

  • Jollyraj

    “So, now Sinn Fein in particular as the leaders of Nationalism have the mandate what are they going to do with it?”

    Uhm… block stuff? Mostly just block stuff until we get Direct Rule so they can go back to their comfort zone of sniping from the margins?

  • Jollyraj

    SF being the scorpion, obviously.


  • mickfealty

    Emotion over logic. Wins every time. Hard to deal with if people want to change the conversation from destruction to construction.

  • Jim M

    I’m increasingly sympathetic to the idea, but since when did a hypothetical constitutional arrangement count as ‘normality’??

  • mickfealty

    Succinctly put Clive.

  • grumpy oul man

    Really, your proof please.
    this should be simple enough for you but read it twice anyway!

  • grumpy oul man

    sounds like the DUP to me!

  • Sharpie

    Interesting point – it might say something about the purpose of this forum. There is a need to find a different way of engaging. Shouting at the other, or pointing at them and saying “look how angry they are” will not make the change in behaviour. There is a need for a different way of getting people involved in building society based on a grander plan. I sometimes am convinced that it is the border that is constipating everything and once gone a dynamism and sense of possibility would be unleashed.

  • Gingray

    Brian, part of that surely is the fault of Slugger – daily blogs about SF for example will ensure that the readership is geared up for those sort of issues, while only having a random issue on education or health will be missed by many.

  • JR

    Couldn’t agree more. The priority now should not be looking over the fence at the Unionist crisis but a cold hard look at ourselves and how we can use this unprecedented mandate to grow the pro nationalist vote for a more integrated and fair society.

    Priorities should include working with the alliance party, the greens, the ulster unionists and the DUP for any shared ground on environmental issues, LGBT issues, minority rights issues. Work on outreach to the Loyalist groups in working class areas who would have many shared issues with communities in West Belfast. Forging strong links with he SNP in Scotland to work together on the best “exit from Brexit” strategy”

    Infrastructural integration, as has been happening with the all Ireland electricity network, cross border road projects, Look for areas in the health and education systems where increased cross border co-operation and integration can save money through better efficiency.

    Economic integration should be looked at, Corporation tax integration and working with Dublin and London to jointly attract foreign direct investment,
    Integration of regulations across the island to reduce the burden of

  • Andy Gunn

    I think the issue is that abortion is happening, regardless of legality. It is currently made unsafe by the drugs bought online, medical confusion over terminal foetuses. We also just largely export the problem to england.
    Its moot to argue that it shouldnt happen, we have to be grounded in the reality of this debate.
    I also think the church hasnt a leg to stand on, they may care for the unborn but their treatment of live babies was apparently beyond any imaginiable cruelty at tuam. For nationalism to embrace the church at this time would be a big mistake imo. i know i wouldnt vote for anyone who governs from a theological standpoint.

  • Croiteir

    Nationalists do not have to reach out to anyone, unionists do, the faulty logic that turns that on its head fails to recognise that nationalists no longer have to sit at the end of the table hoping the crusts will be passed down. If unionists want to have a border and a region that works they need to learn that they can no longer legislate nationalists out of the picture, they have to be brought in to help with Project Ulster. What do nationalists need to do, keep pushing for a gee north, keep pushing for their agenda. We do not need to show unionists need a unionists veto, we need to show them that it means nothing.

  • mac tire

    The British minister is a liar – he attempts to portray himself as neutral in our conflict. He is not.

  • Lionel Hutz

    It’s not about what it needs to do. The thing about being in the more prominent position is that it’s not about what needs to happen. We have choices, and we can choose to reach out. And we should

  • Croiteir

    No – we should not. We just need to keep promoting our agenda of fair and equal play for everyone irrespective of who you are. Unionism needs no mollycoddling or and special consideration. It is that failed thinking that lead to the falling away of nationalist voters over the last decade. That lesson needs to be well learned.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Surely the problem with health is that with an aging population, higher inflation, poor individual responsibility for health and dwindling finances to spend on anything else, demand is much higher than supply which is getting smaller.