Wonderful World. Beautiful People
Whilst I was more than pleased with Sinn Fein’s increased vote in all the constituencies, and with Pat Doherty’s stupendous victory in West Tyrone, it was the final result in Fermanagh and South Tyrone at twenty past ten on Friday night that moved me the most and made me feel immensely proud to be an Irish republican and part of a brilliant community.
On this, the twentieth anniversary of the hunger strike, it was like a rendezvous with history. I had heard Michelle Gildernew at the re-launch of Bobby Sands’ ‘One Day In My Life’ in April speak about being eleven years old in 1981 when Bobby died and being astonished and humbled at his and the other hunger strikers’ sacrifice. You could hear the raw emotion in her voice, a memory come alive as she relived those heart-breaking days.
Eleven years of age!
And now, with 17,700 votes, she is the first woman republican abstentionist MP since the election of Countess Markievicz with 7,835 votes in December 1918. When you hear the words ‘Fermanagh and South Tyrone’ you always think of Bobby Sands and 1981 long before you think of Churchill’s ‘dreary spires’. 1981 changed our lives and those of our young and I predict that the rally in Belfast this August to commemorate the memory of those ten dead men and their comrades Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg will see the biggest turn-out of republicans in a hundred years.
What are we to make of the highest ever republican electoral performance since the foundation of this state, Sinn Fein’s outpolling of constitutional nationalists, its effect on the peace process, and the drive for Irish independence?
Firstly, at a national level Sinn Fein has proved to be spot on. In the Twenty-Six Counties it was castigated by that coalition government luminary, Tanaiste Mary Harney of the ‘Regressive’ Democrats, not solely for being inextricably linked to you-know-who, but for having crazy world politics! Yet, Sinn Fein and the Green Party won the referendum opposing the Nice Treaty, and demonstrably refuted - in the words of John Hume and Alex Attwood - that "we are in a post-nationalist era".
The people who came out and voted ‘No’ in the South form the real conscience of the Irish nation and are saying that despite the purported benefits of membership of the European Union their souls, their sovereignty, are not up for sale. The world has to remain a rainbow coalition of independent and good people, and if ‘nationalism’ means denying the bad people the authority to aggrandize power, and in our name to bomb people and nations we do not know or understand, who are of no threat, then ‘nationalism’ has to be for us.
Secondly, at a six-county level, Sinn Fein’s rise has changed everything - even more than the DUP’s increase in seats. Sinn Fein taps into a mood for freedom and generosity: the DUP into fear and intolerance. Working-class Gerry Adams now has more clout than John Hume in London, Dublin, Washington and Brussels - though those powers may well be in denial for a while.
Not all Sinn Fein’s votes came solely from young people. Thus, it is a great tribute to former SDLP voters and households, that they had the maturity to change, to ditch the Gerry Fitt-ism and the nonsense of Alex Attwood, and embrace a party which will robustly defend their interests on policing, equality, justice and freedom.
I sat in an RTE studio on Friday with Carmel Hanna of the SDLP and I said to her that Attwood had made a major blunder by describing West Tyrone as the party’s ‘Stalingrad’. She tetchily corrected me and said that it wasn’t the SDLP but the BBC’s political correspondent, Stephen Grimason, who invented the comparison. I made the point that not only had they not demurred from the analogy but that their spokespersons were enthusiastically quoting it on a number of occasions. Of course, you can’t blame the SDLP alone. They had their confederates in the media, east of the Bann, part of a campaign machine which undoubtedly also sorely felt the loss, except that after the election these hypocrites had the temerity to say that they knew all along that Doherty would take West Tyrone!
On the unionist side David Trimble lost Strangford to DUP’s Iris Robinson, regained South Antrim from Willie McCrea, lost East Derry to Gregory Campbell (who could yet turn out to be a pragmatist), and gained North Down from Bob McCartney. The Ulster Unionists vote overall was up but it is the perception that counts, those lost seats. Trimble asserted himself in North Down where he opposed the candidature of Peter Weir and successfully replaced him with pro-Agreement candidate Lady Sylvia Hermon (with whose husband, Jack Hermon, I have spent more weekends than her!).
However, not all votes for the Ulster Unionist Party can be said to be votes for the Good Friday Agreement. The only thing missing from the rabid David Burnside in his acceptance speech in South Antrim was a Free Presbyterian dog collar. He demanded IRA decommissioning.
And there will never, ever, be IRA decommissioning, an IRA surrender.
What there is, is a republican commitment to peace, and a commitment to put the guns beyond use.
So, David Trimble says he will resign on July 1st when the guns aren’t melted down, and the man who may hold the reins for a very short time, is a man upon whom the Newry and Armagh sun is setting, Seamus Mallon.
For years the coming of a ‘political vacuum’ has been predicted and that such a scenario would spark widespread community violence. Look at the election. Absolutely no support for dissident republicans; the unionists confused, split, disillusioned, and, even with the DUP’s successes, without any real focus or authority.
In a few years Ian Paisley will know whether there’s a God, his charisma-challenged son will be MP for North Antrim, Peter and Iris will be a double-act on ‘Have I Got News For You’, David Burnside will be leader of the Ulster Unionists, Tony Blair will be in his third term, and we republicans will be strong, united and confident, and in control of much of our country and our lives.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison