March 2017 News Summary and Opinion Regarding the Snap Elections in the North
From Peter Kissel, President:
As you might expect, the Nationalists’ surge in last week’s elections in the North has brought out a flurry of news articles, columns, TV broadcasts on a daily basis in the Republic as well as the North. As I did not expect, most of them have been quite respectful of Sinn Fein and highly caustic about unionists, especially Arlene Foster. Most commentators note that Foster is hugely to blame for the DUP’s disastrous showing, but they also recognize that Nationalists, and particularly SF supporters, have conducted an impressive and admirable campaign. There is general agreement that Martin McGuinness did what he had to in collapsing the government, and that he had good reasons for doing so. This is striking as beforehand the journalistic consensus was that SF was making a big, irresponsible, mistake. Now most of the media are hailing SF’s strategy and wisdom!
A quick summary of the vote: the Nationalist vote (SF and SDLP) was up by over 57,000 over last May’s elections. While the unionist vote (DUP, UUP, and two other minor parties) increased about 22,000, its share of the vote went down considerably. The Assembly is 18 seats smaller due to redistricting, 90 seats total from 108 previously, and Unionists lost 16 of the 18 lost seats. The DUP went from 38 seats to 28; SF dropped only 1 to 27 seats, a huge proportionate increase and a very impressive showing, all agree. The SDLP held its own at 12 seats – the same as before; similarly the Alliance Party, very loosely associated with Unionism but quite rational, kept its 8 seats. End result is the Unionists no longer have a majority (40 seats out of 90; Nationalists have 39) for the first time EVER since the statelet was created in 1921. More significantly, DUP fell short of the 30 seats they needed (and expected) to kill legislation unilaterally – a tactic they have used repeatedly until now. To add insult to injury, 2 of Foster’s top lieutenants – Nelson McCausland and Lord Morrow – lost their seats. Also, the UUP did very poorly, and their party leader, Michael Nesbit, resigned as a result. (sidebar — the papers have contrasted Nesbit’s honorable act in accepting fault for the UUP’s defeat with Foster’s obstinate “arrogance” in trying to blame SF dirty tactics on her poor showing, which is not washing with anyone). In fact, the most common word associated with Foster is arrogance – almost like it’s her surname.
Particularly notable, there is a soft but unmistakable strain in some of the reports that unification should now be on the table. This is a reflection of both the force of the Nationalist policy agenda, and the Brexit freight train about to hit the North’s economy, which is bad to begin with, in the gut.
Just to give a flavor, here are some of the headlines in the papers: “Foster’s Crocodile sneer is what did the damage”, “DUP smarting from close encounter with crocodile”; “SF makes big gains in Northern elections”; “SF will be emboldened after closing the gap on DUP”; “Sinn Fein rejoices as DUP counts the cost of an inept Campaign”; “The election no one wanted has turned out to be a defining moment”; “Nationalism felt it had been slapped on the snout and it snarled back”: “SF delivers a blow in Foster’s home ground;” and “The crocodiles snapped.” Lots of work still to be done, but the tide is definitely turning in favor of unification. Let’s all do whatever we can to push this along.