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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Nationalist Voter Apathy

After the formation of the gerrymandered, sectarian "Protestant state for Protestant people," the Catholic minority community suffered decades of discrimination, inequality and sectarianism. Essentially second class citizens, many were forced many to emigrate. In spite of this, demographic change started to occur in the 1960s which saw the number and proportion of the Catholic population begin to increase.
                       

Partition was not kind to the Nationalist political parties either who obtained the vast majority of its support from the Catholic minority community. Majority Unionist rule led to gerrymandering and denial of the right to one man one vote. 

As demographics changed and the Catholic population grew so too did the Nationalist vote. Nationalists which once made up a mere 18.9% of the vote, had by the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 almost reached parity with Unionists.
                       
 
From around the year 1998 until 2011 the Nationalist voted seemed to plateau at around 42%. The results of the 2014 local and European elections came as a shock. The combined Sinn Féin and SDLP vote slipped back to 38.5%. The result of the 2015 Westminster election shows this was no once off. The SF/SDLP vote of 38.4% is almost identical to the prior year. So what has happened to Nationalism? Why despite demographic change has the Nationalist vote stalled and gone into decline? Could it be electoral apathy?
 
The graph below is an estimate of electoral turnout based on election figures and community background figures from the census. It assumes that he vast majority of those brought up in a Catholic community background vote for or are inclined to vote for Nationalist parties and the vast majority of those brought up in a Protestant community background vote for or are inclined to vote for Unionist parties. It also assumes that everybody is on the electoral register.


Nationalist voter apathy was catching up with traditional Unionist voter apathy up until 2009 when parity was reached.
Although the proportion of Nationalists voting declined at a greater rate than Unionists, the Nationalist percentage of the vote was holding. This was a sign of further demographic change.
The 2014 European and local elections saw a surge in Unionist turnout. The Nationalist vote continued it's decline and remained well below the Unionist turnout in the 2015 election.

There were two significant events which took place between the 2011 and 2014 elections which could have caused the Unionist turnout to increase well beyond that of Nationalists.
 
On 4th December 2012, Belfast City Council with it's first ever Nationalist plurality voted to change the policy of flying the Union Flag from City Hall. Instead of the flying of the flag 365 days per year it would only be flown on 17 designated days. The Union Jack which had flown over Belfast City Hall every day for more than a century was taken down.
 
There was an electoral canvass in 2013. Basically the Electoral Office NI wiped clean the electoral register, an electoral canvass took place in each constituency and a new electoral register was published. The new register contained details of 1,241,079 electors out of an eligible electorate of 1,405,808 based on the 2011 census. The new register contained 88.3% of the eligible population. Could it be that the new register contained a much higher proportion of additional potential Unionist voters than Nationalist voters? The Loyalist reaction to the removal of the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall was bedlam on the streets. Could the overall Unionist reaction have been getting the maximum amount of additional potential voters onto the electoral register?
 
Clearly Unionists have become more motivated to turnout and vote. But that is only one side of the equation and not something Nationalist can change. What can be changed is the huge increase in apathy among their own base.
 
In order to resolve this major problem the reasons for increasing apathy must be identified. Then solutions must be formulated.
Possible reasons for Nationalist voter apathy:
  • Despondency. Not much progress has been made since the GFA. The British Government and Unionists have failed to implement outstanding issues of past agreements such as the Irish Language Act. No progress has been made on the A5, the Ulster Canal, Narrow Bridge or an independent University for Derry. Little or no jobs have been created outside of Belfast. No fiscal powers have been secured. Amazingly, both SF and the SDLP have entered into subsequent agreements without first obtaining guarantees on implementing past agreements.
  • The collapse of the Irish economy is likely to have had an effect. Note the large drop in Nationalist turnout between 2007 and 2009. The annual Peace Monitoring Report suggests support for Unity dropped at the height of the recession.
  • Lack of choice. Unionists have the DUP, UUP, TUV, UKIP, PUP, Conservatives etc. Nationalists have two left wing parties with very little separating them bar their view on the past.
  • Lack of Nationalist co-operation. The Unionist pact worked to perfection. In PR elections Unionists will encourage voters to give a preference to all other Unionists on the ballot paper. Past experience suggests SF and SDLP will not do the same.
  • Many practicing Catholics are not enamoured by SF and SDLP views on abortion and same sex marriage.
  • The SDLP are a party lacking individuals with charisma and leadership. They are turning non SF inclined voters off who are either staying at home or voting for Alliance and People Before Profit.
Possible Remedies:
  • A Nationalist Panel should be set up with representatives from all interested parties to research the reasons for increasing  apathy and report back on it's findings with remedies.
  • Granting Irish citizens in the North voting rights in Presidential Elections would energise Nationalists and encourage more political organisation on an All Ireland basis. This should be a key strategic objective.
  • More choice is required. The North is crying out for a centre right All Ireland party. Fianna Faíl who have promised to contest the 2019 assembly elections may offer the best opportunity.
  • Reduce the legal voting age to 16.
  • Learn from the Scottish National Party success in Scotland and replicate where practical.
  • Campaign to get the maximum number of people registered to vote.
  • More focus on getting those living/travelling abroad and those in 3rd level education to use their postal or proxy vote.
  • Both SF and the SDLP need to put aside their narrow political interests and co-operate for the greater good.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Schools Census 2014/2015

Today's school children are tomorrows voters. The strong correlation between voting trends and religious affiliation advocates the use of current demographic data to determine future voting patterns.
 
The Schools Census 2014/2015 published by the Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) provides a breakdown of the religion of school children in nursery, primary, post primary and special schools in the North of Ireland.
 
As the Schools Census is published annually a trend has emerged of an increasing proportion of Catholics and Others (No Religion/Not Recorded) and a year on year reduction in the proportion of Protestants. Page 27 of this years report shows that these trends are continuing. Catholics now make up 51.3% (+0.2%) of pupils. The Protestant percentage has declined to 38.8% (-0.4%) while the Others have increased to 9.9% (+0.2%).





 
The figures above are similar to figures in table DC2116NI of the 2011 Census in that they are based on the stated 'Religion'. The 2011 Census also produced table DC2117NI which determines the 'Community Background' of the population. Basically a proportion of 'Others' in table DC2116NI have been allocated to the two main blocks to produce table DC2117NI.

 
This can be replicated in the Schools Census. Primary school children are generally aged between 5 to 11 years and secondary school children are aged between 12 and 18. At the time of the 2011 Census todays 5 to 11 year olds were aged 1 to 7 and todays 12 to 18 year olds were aged 8 to 14.

 
The allocation of 'Others' in table DC2116NI (Religion) to produce table DC2117NI (Community Background) shows the following allocation for todays school children:
  • School children aged 1-7: 20.3% to Catholic. 20.2% to Protestant.
  • School children aged 8-14: 22.0% to Catholic. 23.8% to Protestant.
Using these figures to reallocate 'Others' in the Schools Census to provide a truer reflection of the community background of students, we find that Catholics make up 53.4%, Protestants 40.9% and Others 5.7%

 
Leaving aside the 5.7% 'Others' not identified as belonging to either the Catholic or Protestant community backgrounds, the religious split in the schools is 57% Catholic and 43% Protestant.


So in a week where we find that extreme elements of Unionism are so worried about changing demographics that they are using land funds to prevent Catholics from buying homes, we can determine that the trend towards a 60:40 demographic make up of the North's population shows no sign of abating. If the correlation between voting trends and religious affiliation remains strong, inevitably Nationalism's day will come.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Protestant Land for Protestant People

 

A recent BBC Spotlight programme highlighted land funds controlled by the Orange Order. It is alleged that these land funds are being used by companies linked directly or indirectly to the OO, to purchase land in rural parts of the North in order to keep the land in Protestant hands, or more accurately to keep out of the reach of Catholics.

The alleged "landholding body of the Loyal Orange Institution" is the Ulster Land and Property Company (ULPC) whose motto is "Ulster is being sold, help us buy it." ULPC was formed in 1995 at the height of the Drumcree standoff, to block Catholics buying land.

Of course this type of sectarian skewing of the property market has been going on for decades. In 1920 acres of land was reserved for thousands of Protestants in nearby Cavan and Monaghan who found themselves on the "wrong side" of the new gerrymandered border.

So what have Unionist "leaders" have to say about a practice which effectively seeks to prevent Catholic families from buying homes and in doing so skews the property market. The silence has been deafening. You would have to go back to a row in the Assembly in 2013 where First Minister and leader of the largest Unionist party, Peter Robinson berated Jim Allister of the TUV for selling land to "Republicans", by which of course he meant "Catholics."

"And he chides me for doing business with republicans, but then secretly and, outside of this house, the member as executor of a will, is selling land to republicans in County Fermanagh to benefit his own family"

Imagine for one moment, an organisation made up largely of Catholics such as the GAA (and I am not for one minute comparing the GAA with the Orange Order) purchased land from Catholics in order to ensure it could be sold to other Catholics north or south of the border. Imagine the organisation purchased land from Protestants so it could turn the "colour code" of the land from orange to green. Imagine if they were providing loans and grants to Catholics to ensure the land stayed in the right hands. Imagine the reaction!

There would be calls for a full investigation. There would be calls for the introduction of new legislation. There would be calls for an investigation into how reconciliation funding (including funding provided by the Irish government!) is being used and there would certainly be calls for all future public and reconciliation funding to stop.

It is worth noting that the recent property crash has hit all property companies hard and the Orange Order will not have escaped. In fact it can be said without fear of contradiction that NAMA owns more land north of the border than the Orange Order ever will.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Labour Force Survey 2013


Following on from the publication of the 24th Fair Employment Monitoring Report by the Equality Commission comes the publication of the Labour Force Survey 2013.

For as long as the correlation between demographic and voting trends remains strong, I will continue to review publications such as these for information provided on demographics, in order to gage possible future voting patterns.

The main difference between the LFS and Monitoring Reports is that the latter does not monitor the self-employed, those on government training schemes, school teachers and those working in private sector concerns with 10 or less employees. While the LFS does look at a wider market spectrum it comes with a health warning in that as a survey the results can be quite volatile due to sampling errors. Also data to determine the community background figures where religion was not provided by those surveyed has not been used in the LFS.

Comparing the figures for the Working Age Population with the LFS 2012 we see that the proportion of Protestants has increased by one percentage point to 45%, the proportion of Catholics remains unchanged at 43%, while the proportion of  those classified as 'other/non-determined decreased by one percentage point to 12%.

The definition of "working age" changed in 2010 to include both males and females between the ages of 16 and 64 (previously it excluded females between ages 59 to 64). Therefore we will look at the figures from 2010 in order to be as consistent as possible.


The Protestant proportion increase of 1% in 2013 makes as much sense as a 2% decrease in both 2011 and 2012. It is clear the volatility of the LFS can cause year on year changes which are contrary to demographic trends. The LFS recognises this volatility stating "it may be due to sampling error and as such year on year changes should be observed with caution and longer term trends should also be considered." The longer term trends are represented in the graph below.


The LFS also gives us a breakdown of the demographics for the Population Aged 16 and Over. We are told "The proportion of Protestants has fallen by eight percentage points between 1990 and 2013, from 56% to 48%, while the proportion of Catholics has increased by three percentage points, from 38% to 41%, over this same period. The proportion of the population classified as ‘other/non-determined’ has almost doubled (from 6% to 11%) over this period".


In the graph above we again can see can see the volatility of the results from year to year. The longer term trend is demonstrated below:


The demographic breakdown of the Population Aged 60+ tells us "the proportion of this age group who identified as Protestant has decreased from 66% in 1990 to 60% in 2013, while the proportion of Catholics has increased, from 30% to 33%, over this same period. Five per cent of those aged 60 and over were classified as ‘other/non-determined’ in 1990; by 2013 this proportion had increased to 8%. We are also told Between 2011 and 2012 the proportion of Protestants fell by six percentage points (from 62% to 56%), the proportion of Catholics increased by eight percentage points (from 29% to 37%), and the proportion of those classified as other/non-determined decreased by two percentage points (from 9% to 7%). Such a large swing in the religious composition of the population of this age group may be due to sampling error and as such year on year changes should be observed with caution and longer term trends should also be considered"



 The breakdown of the Population Aged 16 to 24 tells us "The proportion of Protestants has fallen by seven percentage points between 1990 and 2013, from 49% to 42%, while the proportion of Catholics has increased by one percentage points, from 44% to 45%, over this same period. The proportion of the population classified as ‘other/non-determined’ has almost doubled (from 7% to 13%) over this period".



The data on the 'Working Age Population' shows that the population between the ages 16 to 64 is at or very close to parity. The data on 'Population Aged 16 & Over' and 'Population Aged 60+' telling us there are significantly more Protestants in the older age cohorts. The data on 'Population Aged 16 to 24' shows us that Catholics are in a majority in the younger age cohorts. We can therefore conclude that tipping point for the 'Working Age Population' will be seen in the LFS 2014 and if there is a sampling error in 2014 we will see it in the 2015 report.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Equality Commission 24th Monitoring Report

Talks on parades, flags, the legacy of the past, outstanding issues of the Good Friday and other agreements and financial issues look set to fail yet again due to the inability of Unionists to compromise. As demographics change Unionists must surely realise that they would be better off cutting a deal now from a position of strength rather than in a few years down the line when the increasing Catholic population turns into increasing Nationalist political representation. This is because if the correlation between religion and voting patterns remains strong, Unionists might find that when the time comes to move from the "not an inch" mentality that they have no cards left to play.

The latest snapshot of demographic change can be seen in the 24th Monitoring Report. The report carried out annually by the Equality Commission provides a breakdown of the community background of the monitored workforce in the North of Ireland in the prior year.

The latest publication tells us that in 2013 Catholics made up 47.0% of the workforce and Protestants made up 53.0%. The Catholic share continues to increase as the Protestant share declines (by around 0.4% per annum). In 2013 there was a 0.8% swing on prior year figures. We are rapidly approaching parity.


The reason for the convergence can be explained by the net effect of those entering and exiting the workforce on a yearly basis.

Catholics (52.0%) again had a greater proportion of Applicants than Protestants (48.0%). This trend is accelerating as school leavers and graduates (which are majority Catholic) enter the workforce.



In 2013 the Catholic share of the Appointees to the workforce increased by 1.5% to 52.4% suggesting that the slight decline in 2012 was temporary and the overall trend of increasing Catholic appointees from 44.8% in 2001 continues.


One would expect the vast majority of Leavers of the workforce, do so due to retirement. We know that Protestants make up approximately two thirds of people of retirement age. It is therefore quite puzzling why Protestants only account for 50.7% of leavers. The Catholic share was 49.3%.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New talks to commence


Fresh all party talks with British, Irish and US government involvement are to begin in a couple of weeks.

Nationalist parties have reacted positively to the talks aimed at breaking the deadlock on flags, parades, the legacy of the past and the deadlock over the implementation of welfare cuts. Other outstanding issues will no doubt also be brought to the table.

Unionists on the other hand have reacted along predicable lines. Pre-conditions have been set. The same people who reneged on agreed programme for government polices, refused to accept the Haass compromise proposals and walked out of all party talks have demanded that the Irish Government not be involved in matters "which are internal to Northern Ireland". The second pre-condition is that a Commission of Inquiry be set up to investigate the decision by the Parades Commission on the Ardoyne parade.

The Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 gave the Irish government an official say into matters concerning the North. This input was strengthened in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. The Irish government are co-guarantors of the GFA along with the British government. The Irish government are the government of the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens in the North.

Unionists are ignoring these facts and once again playing to the tune of extreme right wing elements within Loyalism. The Irish government will be there at the table whether Unionists like it or not. There needs to be a counter balance to the DUP/UUP/Conservative & Unionist Party axis and the British governments partisan approach to unionism. Therefore Irish and US government involvement is not only welcome but necessary.

The calls by the Unionist alliance (DUP/UUP/TUV/UKIP/UDA/UVF/OO) for a Commission of inquiry is part of their "graduated response" in retaliation to a Parades Commission determination that the Orange Order could not march through the Nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood twice in one day. 18 mass demonstrations were to be organised across the North if the SOS did not agree to their demands.

Yesterday the Secretary of State Thersea Villiers announced she would appoint a panel of "experts" to investigate the contentious North Belfast parade. This Parades Panel clearly undermines the Parades Commission. The SOS has capitulated to Unionist threats and pre-conditions and in doing so has rewarded their negativity and intransigence.

Both Nationalist parties have stated that they will not engage with any body that undermines the Parades Commission. The combined unionist leadership stated they would be seeking further clarification from the SOS on "some of the panels terms of reference, membership, functions and reporting. Our objective is to resolve issues in parading and we want to ensure the panel is capable of achieving that objective". Translated this basically means "We will only consider the panel legitimate if it gives us what we want".

The British government have also made threats before the talks have begun. We have been told under no uncertain terms that unless implementation on welfare cuts are agreed during the talks there will be no devolution of corporation tax. This on top of a threat of an £87m fine if these cuts are not implemented.

So bad faith by the Unionists and British governments are the theme in the run up to these talks. Pre-conditions and threats have been made. The Nationalist opening position during these talks must be that before any new agreement is even discussed there must be a commitment and a timetable for the implementation of all outstanding issues of previous agreements. This includes the North-South consultative forum, the Irish Language Act and the Bill of Rights. Failure to agree to this will mean the talks will fail, Stormont falls and Joint Authority begins. The world will see that blame lies solely with the Unionist/British side and their bad faith before the talks had commenced.

Monday, September 29, 2014

LucidTalk Poll 2014



BORDER POLL

In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum on Independence which was defeated 55% to 45% there has been renewed calls for a similar referendum here in Ireland on the constitutional future of 'Northern Ireland'.

This morning I note the Irish Independent article (I know, I know!) "Northerners want a vote on removing the border.  LucidTalk surveyed 1,089 voters on behalf of Independent News and Media (I know, I know!) around the time of the Scottish Referendum. Excluding don't knows 56.2% said they wanted a referendum and 43.8pc didn't.

The GFA states that a border poll will be called when the British Secretary of State feels there is support for Irish Unity. To me this is clear. The trigger for the Independence Referendum in Scotland was the achievement of a majority by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) in Holyrood. Similarly election results which return more Nationalist MLAs than Unionists will be the catalyst for a border poll here.

So achieving a Nationalist majority in Stormont needs to be the goal. In order to achieve this sooner rather than later, the problem of voter apathy needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Sinn Féin who has an excellent record of getting it's vote out needs to do more to appeal to disillusioned dissidents on one hand while making inroads into middle class votes on the other.

The SDLP needs to get it's house in order. They need to become visible and relevant to the electorate again if they are to get their vote out. They need to learn from this years European Election where they lost much of their traditional vote to a Nationalist candidate running for the middle of the road Alliance party. They need to forge links with the Irish Labour Party.

Fianna Fáil need to keep their promise and organise and contest elections in the North. Fine Gael should practice what they preach when they state "a true Irish party should represent all Irish citizens". Labour need to establish closer ties with the SDLP.

More parties mean more choice and more choice means more votes.

OPINION POLL

In addition to being asked whether they support a border poll respondents were also asked how they would vote in such a border poll.

Opinion Polls in the North are mainly carried out by Unionist leaning media outlets and often the questions are loaded to give the "correct" result. Often their results have been discredited where party support per opinion poll have been far from accurate when compared with party support per election results.

The latest poll is no different. Respondents were given three options - Yes for unity as soon as possible, Yes for unity in 20 years time and No for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.

Do you see what they did there? They broke the Yes option into two knowing full well that current economic conditions in Ireland and Britain would steer supporters of unity to the unity in 20 years time option. This would allow them to concur that support for unity at this time was very low. This could then be interpreted as support for a United Ireland being low.

So did it work? The results show that when excluding the don't knows, only 7.7% wanted unity now, 32.5% wanted unity in 20 years time and 59.8% wanted to remain in the UK. If we hear Unionists banging on about how there is only about 7% support for Irish Unity, we can conclude that it has worked.

Even with the scepticism held for Unionist leaning opinion polls let us take the results at face value. 40.2% of the electorate support Irish Unity and 59.8% support the status quo.

This is actually quite a good result for Nationalism for the following reasons:

  • Support for Scottish Independence stood at 30% two years before the referendum was called and the debate began. The actual result of the referendum was 45% in favour. It would have been more were it not for the scaremongering tactics of the British elites.

  • To have over 40% of an electorate voting for something they do not know anything about is a fantastic starting point. Nobody knows what a United Ireland would entail. No green paper on unity has been produced. How would the 26 County voters have voted on the Lisbon Treaty before the terms and conditions of the treaty were set out? A lot less than 40% I would imagine.

  • Demographics. As the Catholic community grows so too will the Nationalist community. Logically an increasing Nationalist electorate should show increased support for Irish Unity in future polls. This poll also reveals that a majority of 18-24 year olds are pro-unity.

  • Economics. It's the economy, stupid. There is a train of thought that people would be better off financially in the UK. The theory goes that because the UK government provides an annual subsidy of c£10bn (or considerably less if defence spending etc. is taken out) that the provision of the block grant would simply transfer to the Irish government in the event of a United Ireland. This argument, to coin a phrase is economically illiterate.

The block grant only exists because NI exists as part of the UK. British economic policy is dictated by South East England for South East England. By keeping the economic core of the UK based around London, other regions inevitably form the periphery and suffer economically. To counter this they are given a subsidy and low quality public sector jobs.

A United Ireland would see economic policy tailored to what was in the best interests of Northern Ireland. This is because the economic needs of the North are almost exactly the same as economic needs in the rest of Ireland. That is an environment which allow sectors such as agriculture, tourism and foreign investment to flourish.

A United Ireland is the best option to provide the North with the economic levers it needs to rebalance it's economy, generate extra revenue and reduce spending waste (duplication of services etc.) to an extent whereby the block grant argument is redundant. Essentially the North of Ireland would be able to pay it's own way rather than being net recipient reliant on scraps from the English tax payer.

The electorate will be shown that the argument "the South couldn't afford us" is a false argument. They will be informed of the degree to which the North as it currently exists is a basket case economy. They will be guided to every economic indicator which shows a superior quality of life and standard of living in the South. They will make up their mind as to which option they would be better off with economically.

  • Health. There is also a train of thought that the electorate in the North would not vote to replace it's free NHS with the expensive HSE in the South. How often do you hear people highlight that you need to pay €50 to see a doctor in the South. For clarification Healthcare in the South is free. It's called a medical card. Those who pay can well afford it. Also the South is already moving to a free universal system.
A green paper on Unity needs to state that in the event of a United Ireland the government will legislate for universal healthcare system which will be free at the point of use. As stated by David McCann over on Slugger O'Toole "argue for a system that is more efficient (than the NHS) and puts an end to long waiting lists, take those lemons and make some lemonade, by taking the current problems in the HSE and address solutions that a united system can give".


So in the not too distant future if demographic trends continue and the correlation between politics and religion remains strong and are demonstrated in election results, we will have a border poll. Once a green paper on Irish Unity is produced (similar to the Scottish white paper) the debate will begin in earnest. In addition to the debates over economics and health, there will be arguments over social justice, education and the economy and the economy and the economy. I have every confidence that the arguments in favour of Irish Unity are superior to arguments for the status quo. Convincing the supposedly one in five Catholics who according to this poll are not supportive of Irish Unity will result in convincing a minority agnostic Protestants that a United Ireland makes sense.

And after the pro UK movement has lost the debate they will resort to scaremongering as they did in Scotland. We need to be ready to counter this better than the Scottish Nationalists did.

But why wait until a Nationalist majority in Stormont to start the debate. Why not start it now?

(chart c/o Belfast Telegraph)

Scottish Independence Referendum: Yes 45% No 55%



45% voted Yes, 55% voted No. Scotland's bid for independence has failed .........for now.

The Scottish are now the only country in the world to have voted against it's independence.
Have the Scottish people bottled a once in a lifetime opportunity to take control of Scotland into the hands of the Scottish people? Did the scaremongering of the No campaign do enough to sway undecided voters?

Back in 2012 when the referendum was first announced polls for independence showed support for Independence at between 30% and 40%. I predicted that this support would rise closer to the vote and that there was no better time for a referendum than a Scotland ruled by a Tory government in the middle of a crippling austerity agenda. However the closeness of the result means that the issue will not go away.

We now await what extra powers are devolved to Scotland and the effect this will have in providing extra powers to the Northern Assembly.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Green Fields


As the dust settles on the Local and European elections, it is clear that the story of the elections has been the rise in Sinn Féin. A rise that manifests itself with triple the number of SF councillors and the election of Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson, Matt Carthy and Liadh Ní Riada to the European Parliament in each of the four constituencies. A rise that dramatically changes the Irish political landscape.

We find ourselves in a new political landscape not because Sinn Féin has a monopoly on Irish Nationalism, far from it. It is because we now have a situation where we will have proper left and right politics. No more will we have a mish mash of coalitions from opposite political spectrums. We will either have a conservative government or a left leaning government.

Already in Kerry County Council we see for the first time ever an alliance formed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If it can be done in Kerry where some of the most hideous events of the Civil War took place, it can be done at a National level. The next government will be a FF/FG grand coalition. That will only be replaced by a left leaning coalition headed by the Shinners. The rise of Sinn Féin has ended the Irish Civil War!

The rise of Sinn Féin also poses serious questions for the SDLP, Labour and Fianna Fáil. The SDLP vote has virtually collapsed from it's hay day of the John Hume and Seamus Mallon era. As the party struggle to stay relevant their support continues to decline. They have now been overtaken in their heartland of Derry as the largest party by Sinn Féin. However their loss in support to Sinn Féin occurred in previous elections. This time their voters stayed at home or to a lesser extent lent their vote to the pro United Ireland Alliance candidate Anna Lo.

Alliance's resolve under sustained attack from Loyalists furious with the party's decision to remove the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall except for designated days has also led to more green votes for Alliance at the expense of the SDLP. The removal of the flag is significant as it led to a surge in the turnout rate of Unionists. Combined with a continuing trend of apathy among Nationalists and a greener Alliance vote (70% of their transfers in the European election went to the SDLP) the result was a combined Nationalist vote of 38.5% the lowest for many years.

Labour as expected were annihilated in the Local and European elections. The party promised the sun, moon and stars to the electorate before the last General Election. Given the economic climate and their status as junior party in the government coalition they were never going to be able to deliver. They sold their soul. The electorate took their revenge. The space they once held is now occupied by SF and other small left leaning parties. Their is no way back. Or is there?

To me the solution for both the SDLP and Labour is obvious. The two should merge. "Labour, The Social, Democratic and Nationalist Party". It makes sense the more you think of it. Both occupy the same left of centre sphere in the political spectrum. Both are in decline. The SDLP are accused of not being Nationalist enough. What better way to highlight Nationalist credentials by becoming an All Ireland Party. Labour reeling from an annihilation in the elections need to dosomething radical to recover.

Fianna Fáil performed well at local level. Given the fact that they were the party that killed the Celtic Tiger by overspending to the extent of eroding competitiveness and spearheaded the economic collapse of the country by fuelling a property boom without regulating the banks, I would say they performed very well. However the party failed to get a candidate elected to the European Parliament other than Brian Crowley in the South. The Nationalist vote has gone to Sinn Féin and it is hard to see how they will get it back. I mean how can a party call itself "The Republican Party" yet organise on a 26 county partitionist basis. It's a walking contradiction. They need to follow through on their commitment to organise and contest elections in the North.

In the North the Nationalist voter turnout is in decline. The Unionist voter turnout is increasing. This is counteracting the demographic change that is occurring. Before the election we had the obligatory Unionist scaremongering about their being too many Unionist Parties which would split the Unionist vote. Rather than split the Unionist vote it maximised the Unionist vote. Voters had more choice, more people knocking on their doors and more publicity.

Nationalists on the other hand had only two left leaning parties to vote for. An invisible SDLP and a Sinn Féin struggling to shake off the shackles of the Troubles. Who are the Catholic Nationalist Republican community conservative in outlook to vote for? Who are CRNs with a strong business ethic to vote for? Who are CRNs who hold strong Catholic beliefs on same sex marriage and abortion supposed to vote for? Nationalism need more choice, more parties and more focus on addressing voter apathy. It needs more cooperation. The SDLP refuses to cooperate with SF in marginal seats in Westminster and Assembly elections. SF discourages voters from transferring to the SDLP. The result is more Unionists in a position where they can dominate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Belfast - Council Election Preview

In previewing the new Belfast Council I am bowing to the superior knowledge of Noel McAdam in the Belfast Telegraph, 'Irish Observer' in the Vote UK Forum, the renowed statistician Nicholas Whyte on Slugger O'Toole  and 'Faha' over on Bangordub's excellent blog.




Belfast once a Unionist dominated stronghold is on the verge of shifting to overall Nationalist control. The 'fleg' controversy has added additional emphasis.

The consensus is that Nationalists will just fall short of an outright majority of 30, this time. However with 34 seats in play, an increased turnover and a willingness to transfer could see a major and historic win for Nationalism. It would be interesting to watch the fallout among Unionism over the loss or surrender or sell out of the hugely significant and symbolic local Council.