Tag Archives: Sinn Fein

Northern Irish Politics And Britain’s Wilful Ignorance

Northern Ireland is a bit of a mystery for Tories and many people on the so-called mainland. So it comes as no surprise to The Cat that the historic gains for Sinn Féin and the collapse of the Democratic Unionist Party’s share of the vote in last Thursday’s snap election went under-reported by the British media. More about that later.

For many British people, it’s as if the ‘Troubles’ (I hate that euphemism) never ended and the Good Friday Agreement never took place.  For the Tories, especially, time in Northern Ireland stands still in the year 1984. This is often revealed in the ‘Corbyn and McDonnell appease IRA terrorists’ slur, which is repeated by Tory, UKIP and Lib Dem politicians and the trolls that gather on the ‘below the line’ threads on newspaper websites and blogs like this one.  Centuries of history are simply swept aside along with evidence.

The mainstream media, too, selectively recalls the ‘Troubles’ as a symmetrical conflict between Catholics and Protestants, with the former group often depicted as wild-eyed Fenian bomb-throwers and the latter as oppressed victims of sectarian hatred.  Nationalism, too,  is often conflated with Republicanism. So it comes as a surprise to many that there were Protestant members of the IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army and Catholic Unionists; while Loyalism is a peculiarly Protestant phenomenon and predates Unionism as a political movement. Unsurprisingly, there is  little, if any, mention in the British media of the strong fraternal (sic) ties between the various Loyalist paramilitaries and extreme right parties like Britain First and the British National Party.  The mainstream media’s simplistic narratives deliberately ignore the complexity of Northern Ireland’s politics and gloss over the history of the centuries old occupation of Ireland by the British.

The gerrymandering of Northern Ireland by the Unionists from the inception of the semi-state in 1920 until the 1970s is also ignored by mainstream media commentators. This video from the 1970s describes how Unionists controlled Derry City Council by rigging the wards.

In the years following partition, Stormont was a mostly Unionist institution with nationalists represented by the Nationalist Party, a continuation of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The dominant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which monopolized the Protestant vote, has close ties to the Conservative and Unionist Party on the mainland.

In the first Northern Ireland House of Commons election of 1921, James Craig’s Unionists polled 60 seats with Sinn Féin and the Nationalists receiving 6 seats each. Both parties abstained from taking their seats. This remained the case until 1925, when the Northern Ireland Labour Party gained 3 seats and Independent Unionists took 4 seats from the UUP. This would be the last election to be held using proportional representation. There are no prizes for guessing why PR was abolished in favour of First Past The Post. Single seat constituencies were also created, thus making it doubly difficult for small parties and independents to gain seats. The UUP held onto its unfair advantage until 1973 when direct rule was imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster. Even so, the UUP’s hegemony remained intact until the Northern Ireland Assembly elections of 2003, when it was overtaken by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin.

Success for the DUP at Stormont would translate into success at Westminster, where it eclipsed the UUP. Now part of a power-sharing executive with with its old foe, Sinn Féin, the DUP believed it could keep the Unionist political hegemony alive forever. How wrong they were.

In spite of their historical differences, the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness appeared to get along well as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The press even dubbed them ‘The Chuckle Brothers’.  When Paisley retired due to ill health in 2008, his place as FM was taken by Peter Robinson, who immediately adopted a hardline approach to the Shinners. Robinson would eventually be brought down 8 years later by no less a figure than his wife, Iris, who was involved in an extramarital affair with a man who was nearly 20 years her junior. She also arranged £50,000 of loans for her lover to open a restaurant.

Under Robinson and his successor, the hapless Arlene Foster , the DUP  blocked socially progressive legislation and supported Brexit (they have always been anti-EU), while most voters in the Six Counties supported Remain. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, began to drag Foster under.  RHI had been introduced while Foster was Minister for Enterprise and Trade and she was accused by a “senior member” in her own party of withholding evidence from the Assembly.  In response to Foster’s stubborn refusal to resign while investigations took place, Martin McGuinness, who was already extremely ill, resigned as Deputy FM, thus precipitating the election. The DUP has lost 10 seats, while the UUP continues its descent into obscurity having lost one of its six seats. Other smaller parties, like the Loyalist-orientated Traditional Unionist Voice, are static. Only  Sinn Féin and the SDLP made significant gains, while Profit Before People lost one seat.

Yet Foster still refuses to stand down. Even Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the UUP, resigned. The normally Unionist-friendly Belfast Telegraph has urged her to stand aside.

Unionists of all shades – mainstream, moderate and hardline – need to engage in a soul-searching inquest. The fact that Mike Nesbitt so swiftly relinquished his leadership of the Ulster Unionists should not mean that Foster can ignore a similar fate in the DUP.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin is refusing to work with the DUP if they insist on keeping Foster as FM.

There is nothing particularly modern or forward-looking about the Unionist parties and they have held the Six Counties back for far too long. Could this be the beginning of the end for Unionism? I hope so.

5 Comments

Filed under 2017, Government & politics, Northern Ireland Assembly elections

The Irish General Election 2011

Presently, 154 out of the 165 seats in the Dáil have been filled. The seat tally, thus far, is as follows,

Fine Gael: 70

Labour: 36

Fianna Fail : 18

Sinn Fein: 13

Independents (no party affiliation): 13

Socialist: 2

People Before Profit: 2

South Kerry Independent Alliance: 0

Workers Party: 0

Green Party: 0

Christian Solidarity Party: 0

This was crushing defeat for the outgoing Fianna Fail party, while their allies the Greens were completely wiped out.  Although RTE lists 13 Independents, some of that number are part of the United Left Alliance. This is because the Alliance was hastily put together at the end of last year and didn’t have time to register many of its candidates as ULA candidates. This map shows just how much damage has been done to FF, who now have only one seat in Dublin.

One interesting result was that of ULA candidate Richard Boyd-Barrett in Dun Laoghaire, who is not only the son of actress, Sinead Cusack but a member of the Socialist Workers Party, who are a constituent member of the PBP. Boyd-Barrett won a seat at the expense of Fianna Fail’s deputy leader Mary Hanafin, but not before Labour’s Ivana Bacik demanded a recount.

It was a very good result for Sinn Fein, whose leader, Gerry Adams, left Westminster to contest the election. He won in Louth on the first count. Elsewhere, Joe Higgins of the Socialists won in Dublin West and his colleague, Clare Daly won Dublin North. Higgins is also an MEP who had previously sat in the Dail prior to the 2007 election. Joan Collins, another PBP candidate won a seat in Dublin South Central. Collins can be seen in this clip giving Bertie Ahern a hard time outside Leinster House.

Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, now has the task of trying to form a coalition with either some Independents or with Labour. There is a history of FG/Labour coalitions in Ireland, so this seems to be the most likely outcome. But these two parties make strange bedfellows: FG was formed in 1933 from a merger of Cumann na nGaedheal, The National Centre Party and Eoin O’Duffy’s  fascist Blueshirts. Labour, on the other hand, are supposed to be a social democratic party, so how the two can co-exist in government is indeed baffling. However a quick glance at Labour’s manifesto reveals that some of the party’s policies are, at least, intended to reassure FG should the two parties form a coalition. The phoney war of words between the two leaders during the election is now a distant memory.

So why do Labour go into coalition with a party that has a fascist past? It all begins in the 1950’s when Labour was accused of being in league with Moscow by Fianna Fáil during the Irish Red Scare. The party purged its membership of those members it saw as ‘communists’. This behaviour would be repeated in the 1980’s when Labour moved to purge the Militant Tendency from its ranks. Militant are now the Socialist Party and now have 2 seats in the Dáil. Labour’s only chance of power, therefore, was to go into a coalition with the Blueshirts. In spite of FF’s best efforts, there is still a taste for left-wing politics in Ireland.

So what now for Fianna Fáil, the self-described Republican Party? With its paltry 18 seats, it can do nothing but try and rebuild, but it does so from such a low base that the only left for it, is a complete realignment.  But this is unlikely to happen. Old habits die hard and FF are still living in the long shadow cast by the party’s founder, Eamon de Valera. While the party may not necessarily be the same genuflecting, rigidly Catholic party it once was, its political culture, that is to say the way in which it does politics, remains forever entrenched in the past. The party is mired in allegations of cronyism and corruption and dirty dealings that go right back to Dev himself. He founded and controlled the Irish Press, which acted as an unofficial-but-not-quite ministry of information.

Here’s a clip from the BBC documentary Ireland’s Hated Hero – Eamon De Valera

Naturally, Dev’s grandson, Eamon Ó Cuív won a seat on the first count.  There is no way that FF would allow a member of the illustrious De Valera family to lose a seat. It simply doesn’t happen. His uncle Vivion De Valera was the managing director of Irish Press Ltd from 1959 to 1981 and was also a TD. His first cousin, Sile De Valera was also a TD.

Yesterday,  Micheál Martin, FF leader appeared on RTE 1 to explain why his party had suffered so badly. Instead, he took a few swipes at Sinn Fein, whom he accused of being a “paramilitary party”. He’s a very bitter man.

According to RTE, FG leader, Kenny will begin exploratory talks with Labour on forming a coalition. If the Irish people were hoping for a change, then their hopes will be dashed. With an FG/Labour coalition, it will be business as usual. In fact,the Irish government will resemble the coalition government in this country: a centre-left party will act as a fig-leaf for a right-wing party.

UPDATE: @ 1744

Irish Examiner reports that the union UNITE has called on Labour to reject the Blueshirts overtures and form a left-leaning government. Given Labour’s history of running scared of FF and their allies in the media, this remains to be seen. Should FG form a government, it’s only a matter of time before it collapses and a new election is called. Nowhere Towers urges Labour to do the right thing for the sake of the people.

1 Comment

Filed under General Election 2011, Ireland

Tories and the defence of civil liberties

How short is the average Tory’s memory? The answer: very short, in fact, they’re practically amnesiac. When David Davis resigned from the Shadow frontbench, he claimed to have done so because he wanted to ‘fight for our civil liberties’. He cited the catalyst for this sudden move as “ID cards”.

But since when have the Tories been defenders of civil liberties? Never. It was under the Tories that we had Section 28 and the Criminal Justice act (1994) which effectively outlawed raves and many other things besides. The voice of Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein were silenced and voiced by actors while members of Loyalist groups were allowed to speak.

So when the Tories tell you that they’re fighting to protect our civil liberties, remind them of their past.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Election 2010, Society & culture