From Socialist Voice, May 2005

Belfast Agreement still has the potential to deliver peace and progress

The outcome of the Northern election has confirmed what everyone knew for some time: that Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party would be the two biggest parties representing the political divide. The SDLP managed to hold on to the seat held by the retiring MP John Hume and by the party leader, Mark Durkin, while they lost Newry and Armagh and won a new seat in south Belfast because of a split between the two main unionist parties. Eddie McGrady was never in any danger of losing his seat.
    No doubt Sinn Féin are disappointed that they did not dislodge Durkin; but the SDLP as an electable force now appears to be in terminal decline. The swing to Sinn Féin carried through into the local election count, with the party winning eighteen new seats and the SDLP losing sixteen.
    It was interesting to see the Southern establishment taking such an active part in Northern elections, for the first time on such a scale possibly since partition. There have never been so many government ministers travelling around the North in their Southern-reg. chauffeur-driven cars.
    It is also clear that not alone were the Southern establishment active on the side of the SDLP with bodies and political support but that money was no doubt passed in substantial quantities. For the first time there was no outcry from unionists such as Paisley or Trimble about “foreign” politicians interfering in Northern affairs. It is a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” The active involvement of Southern politicians would be normal and welcome if it was motivated by a sense of promoting unity and getting to know the real situation in the North rather than an attempt to block and pressure nationalist voters, particularly middle-class Catholics and Castle Catholics, to vote for the SDLP.
    The strategy of the Southern establishment is to stem the rising tide of Sinn Féin and bolster the SDLP. This worked in relation to the elections to Westminster but failed at the local level. They need the SDLP to survive in order to have them at the negotiating table. Their nightmare is to have only Sinn Féin at the table. Their room to manoeuvre would then be very limited indeed.
    The press and the establishment’s blatant use of the Robert McCartney case as a stick to beat Sinn Féin with and scare away potential middle-class voters failed. That does not mean that those who carried out such a brutal killing are absolved from what they did, or that there is no need for republicans to purge them from their ranks. Those elements that committed the murder have nothing in common with republicanism, or even common decency. Going into the PSNI barracks and giving unsigned statements is only playing games and rubbing salt in the family’s wounds.
    On the unionist side, David Trimble and the UUP took a severe battering, as many predicted. Because of the election results Trimble has stood down as leader. They now have only one MP in the British House of Commons. No doubt Trimble will get his just rewards and end up in that rest home for spongers called the House of Lords. (Far be it from us to question the institutions of other states, democratic or otherwise. If nations want to waste their money on parasites, then so be it.)
    What was interesting in the voting, or non-voting, of unionists was that a large percentage of unionists did not vote at all, in particular former supporters of the UUP. Clearly many unionists have been very unhappy with Trimble’s leadership, or complete lack of it, over recent years. It is clear that there is still a significant level of support within unionism for the Good Friday Agreement, but they had no-one to vote for.
    Simply because the DUP is the largest party of unionism does not mean that there will be no movement or change on the part of unionism. If republicans deliver what Gerry Adams has suggested in relation to complete decommissioning and the IRA taking a much-reduced role in republican affairs, then the pressure will shift from republicans onto both unionism and the British.
    What is missing from the political equation is democratic opinion in the South, which remains passive in relation to the continuing political struggle regarding the national question. The left in the Dáil has not broken free of 1980s-style anti-republicanism. The mass media have reverted also to an anti-republican position of witch-hunts and demonising.
    The trade union movement has little to say and is practising what de Valera called for when he said that “Labour must wait.” We all have an opportunity to claim ownership of the process, to show that politics can work and deliver change. The Good Friday Agreement at this time is a vehicle that has within it the potential to deliver, but only if everyone takes an active role. The dynamics are there to push the process forward.

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