In the post count excitement of the election RG forgot to post this article which was published in this weeks Andersonstown News. Given the outcome and the emerging DUP/Tory arrangement/coalition it's still worth a read.
your vote counts.
By the time you get to read this the Westminster election could be over. You may know the result. But as I write this column that's all before us. It’s Wednesday morning. The sun is shining as Bill and I cross the Glenshane Pass on the way to the Foyle constituency. It’s the last day of the election campaign. Later today, after spending the morning with Elisha McCallion, I will join Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh South Tyrone. So far, for Sinn Féin, it’s been a good election campaign. Having spent time in many of the constituencies the mood is very positive. The activists are in great form. The mass canvasses in north Belfast and south Down involving scores of people have been hugely uplifting.
But however good the political message; however bullish the candidates have been in the debates; and however energised the canvas teams are, on election day it’s all down to you the citizen marking your X beside your candidate and party of choice. Thursday is your day. You will have the final say in who is elected or not elected, and whether parties achieve success or failure. That’s how it should be.
The media and academic pundits – those who make a living from interpreting the intention of voters and the statistics of elections – will be looking to see how it compares with the Assembly election in March.
That was a transformative election. Since the state was established in 1920 Unionists dominated local politics. The brazen use of gerrymandered constituencies and the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of nationalists ensured that unionists dominated politics in the Stormont Parliament or in local councils.
Arriving at the Count on Thursday night
However, the March Assembly dramatically changed that. For the first time since partition the unionist political majority in a locally elected Assembly, which was intended to permanent, came to an end. The longer term demographic and political trend is for that to continue but how will it shape out when the votes are counted in the early hours of Friday morning? In March Sinn Féin came within 1,168 votes of over taking the DUP as the party with the largest vote. That was a huge psychological blow to the psyche of political unionism. That lesson was learned quickly by the DUP and their objective in this election has been to reverse that.
All of the stops have been pulled out. The DUP and UUP agreed an electoral pact. Having called for Arlene Foster’s resignation over the Renewable Heating Initiative before Christmas the UUP did a quick flip flop. Now they are happy to support the DUP leader. And not for the first time the endorsement of the DUP and the UUP by the so-called Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) – in essence the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando – means that those organisations are now actively campaigning for those two parties.
Calls for Arlene Foster to reject the endorsement were met with a stony silence. In this election every vote counts and the DUP appear happy to embrace the support of illegal unionist paramilitary organisations.
They know that every vote will count. They know what needs to be done to re- establish viable sustainable political institutions. They know that the gap between the parties, and especially between Sinn Féin and the DUP, to achieve this is significant. The issues which led to the collapse of the Executive and political institutions are still there. And the Irish and British governments have agreements they have yet to honour.
There is also the looming issue of Brexit. Whether it it’s a Tory government or a Labour government that is returned to power after the election both parties are committed to pursuing Brexit. And Brexit will have a serious detrimental impact on the economy of this island but especially of the North and the border counties. It is already having a damaging effect on Irish jobs and businesses, in particular in the agriculture and agrifood sectors.
The aim of the Irish government and of the European Union in the time ahead should be to prevent a land frontier between the European Union and Britain on the island of Ireland. This can best be achieved if the North achieves designated special status within the European Union. The Irish government should also have a veto on any agreement reached between the European Union and the British Government that does not include this position.
Designated status is the best and only way to ensure that the entire island of Ireland will remain within the European Union. It is an imaginative solution that addresses the complexities of the problem. It does not affect the constitutional status of the North. That will be changed only by a referendum.
Crucially, it already enjoys substantial political support. Designated special status within the European Union is the position endorsed by the Dáil. It is endorsed by the majority of MLAs in the Assembly. It recognises that the people of the North voted to remain part of European Union. It is a solution being advocated by representatives of Border communities.
Designated special status for the North within the European Union is about allowing all of Ireland to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It is about maintaining the European Convention on Human Rights and it is about protecting the rights of citizens in the North who have a right to Irish citizenship and, therefore, to citizenship of the European Union. None of this is beyond our collective wisdom or ability.
In the short term however the focus of the next few weeks will be on political talks to restore the Executive. Sinn Féin will enter that process in good heart and with the desire to reach an agreement – irrespective of the outcome of Thursday’s election. We all know what the issues are. Our leader, Michelle O’Neill spelt it out well recently when she said: “We are for an Executive that respects the rights of all citizens and operates with integrity, an Executive that implements agreements”.
Speaking to Miriam at the Titanic Centre
For republicans the issue of a unity referendum is now firmly on the political agenda. We believe that such a referendum should be held within the next five years. We also believe that the political dynamic of recent years makes this issue an imperative and a winnable objective.
Next week will also see the election of a new Taoiseach. Leo Varadkar will be the Fine Gael nominee. He will have a keen interest in the northern election result. There will be another election in the South, though no one knows exactly when. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil probably don't want it too soon but sometimes these things take on a life of their own. So Sinn Féin has to be prepared.
Wherever you live on the island of Ireland your vote counts. I hope you use it wisely.