Posts Tagged ‘SDLP’

Northern Ireland’s results might have longer-term ramifications for the province and the UK

03/07/2024, 09:38:48 AM

by Kevin Meagher

We’ve heard about the Red Wall, the Blue Wall, Scotland and Wales throughout this election campaign, but not so much about Northern Ireland.

Easy to overlook perhaps, but there are 18 parliamentary seats up for grabs and on three occasions over the past 45 years unionists have held the balance of power at Westminster.

Granted, with a Labour landslide incoming we probably don’t need to worry too much about the prospect of Keir Starmer being propped-up by the DUP (although there was a strong possibility of that happening if the numbers had been slightly better for Gordon Brown in 2010).

Still, there are a few interesting twists and turns to watch out for and the result might well have big ramifications for the new government further down the road.

First, there’s the DUP.

Northern Ireland’s preeminent unionist party goes into the election holding eight seats in the House of Commons (one ahead of Sinn Fein). But it’s a record that’s unlikely to be matched this time around.

The latest poll has them 10 points down on their 2019 share of the vote. There is also the elephant in the room in the shape of their former leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is facing 18 charges in relation to historical sexual offences.

The party’s interim leader, Gavin Robinson, is the current MP for East Belfast. He faces a stiff challenge from Alliance. Their candidate, Naomi Long, formerly held the seat beating the DUP’s then-leader, Peter Robinson, back in 2010. Is history going to repeat itself?

Like the Tories, the DUP faces a challenger to their right splitting their vote in the shape of Traditional Unionist Voice. An undiluted, full-fat Paisleyite rump that makes the DUP sound like the Liberal Democrats. They are part of an alliance with Reform UK, (although Nigel Farage has personally endorsed the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson).

But the DUP’s real threat comes from the resurgent Ulster Unionists and Alliance.  Both parties may take seats from the DUP. A worst-case scenario has them losing half their current tally.


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Johnson and Frost’s attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol repeats the Tories’ worst habits in relation to Ireland

01/10/2021, 09:02:41 PM

by Matthew O’Toole

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

If Boris Johnson actually cared it wouldn’t be so bad. His and his government’s wilful disavowal of a treaty they signed (and trumpeted in an election campaign), their intermittent gaslighting of people and businesses in Northern Ireland – if any of it was based on sincere conviction it would be easier to stomach. The empowering of extremists representing glorified crime gangs, the naked refusal to acknowledge the plain facts of international trade.

Political actors in Northern Ireland of all shades don’t just distrust the Johnson Government and its approach to the Protocol, they – we – are disoriented by it. Since everyone has been lied to, there is now next to no reserve of trust from which UK ministers can draw as Brexit makes relationships sharper and more difficult. So, what should happen now? Part of the answer lies in remembering the lessons of the past: the importance of delivering on commitments made in good faith and avoiding the crude assertion of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland as if it were the same as Suffolk.

Conservative indifference to the consequences for the island of Ireland of English political choices is nothing new. Whatever Northern Ireland’s future constitutional arrangements, defending pluralist institutions and British-Irish relations from thuggish Tory nationalism will require an active and engaged Labour Party. That should start with delivery of the complex and imperfect commitments in the EU withdrawal agreement.

One hundred years ago, the Westminster political class was bored of Ireland. The subject had dominated Parliamentary debate on a recurring basis for at least four decades. From the perspectives of both those Liberals – and Labour – who had supported successive attempts at Home Rule, and the Tories who had opposed them, first in relation to all of Ireland and latterly for the province of Ulster, the complicated denouement of 1920 and 1921 signalled time to move on from the Irish question.

First, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 provided for the exclusion of six northern counties from any form of self-governing proto-independent state. Then after months more of fighting between republicans and the British state, by the end of 1921 a treaty providing a ‘Free State’ with dominion status in the other 26 counties was agreed between Lloyd George’s Government and Sinn Fein, which subsequently split but with the treaty itself surviving.

As Charles Townshend’s new book on partition points out, by 1921 many MPs were exasperated at the oxygen consumed by the ‘Irish question’ – and the demands of unionism very much included in that category. Then, as now, there was a striking disinclination to view said Irish question as one in which English politics and English power were implicated, or to put it more directly: one for which English politicians were in large part responsible. For better or worse, Irish issues were to be marginal in British politics (notwithstanding the fact that part of Ireland remained in the UK) for the next half century. In that sense, one of the key aims of Lloyd George’s Government – to stop talking about Ireland – was overwhelmingly delivered.

What does any of this have to do with 2021, and the question of how the UK Government – and British politics in general – approaches the implementation of another treaty, the EU withdrawal agreement and specifically the Protocol on Northern Ireland? It is to demonstrate that nothing happens in the British-Irish relationship outside the historical burden of that relationship; and that relationship is marked by asymmetry of both power and knowledge. Where London possesses the greater power – and not only over the jurisdiction where it is the sovereign power – Ireland (by which I mean the island and both historic ‘traditions’) possesses the greater memory and knowledge, of both historical fact and grievance.


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Why is Keir Starmer playing the Orange card?

02/08/2021, 10:48:44 PM

by Kevin Meagher

You might have missed it because it didn’t really register in the British media (quelle surprise), but Keir Starmer’s trip to Belfast last month caused something of a stir.

While Starmer used the trip to meet victims of the Troubles and to voice his support for the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol – chiding Boris Johnson for not being ‘straight’ with voters in the process – he also dismissed any prospect of Irish unity and indicated that he strongly backs Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

In a tough interview with the BBC’s new Northern Ireland political editor, Enda McLafferty, the Labour leader was quizzed about how support for holding a border poll – the colloquial term for a referendum in Irish unification – might be measured, perhaps by the performance of pro or anti unity parties in an assembly election?

Starmer replied: ‘I don’t think that’s a particularly accurate way of measuring it.’

Really? Surely, it’s the most accurate way of accessing whether there is support for a change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional position? Each of the party’s views on the matter are well-established, so it offers a pretty good measure of the state of the debate. Notwithstanding the fact we have an assembly election next May.

McLafferty pressed Starmer for further clarification. ‘I think there have to be conditions,’ before any vote could be held, he said. ‘I think there have to be lots of discussions. Look, I don’t think [a border poll] is in sight and this is a very hypothetical discussion.’

Asked whether he would campaign with unionists in the event of a vote, Starmer replied: ‘I personally, as leader of the Labour Party, believe in the United Kingdom, strongly, and want to make the case for the United Kingdom, strongly, and will be doing that.’


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Kris Ballance wants a leader for the whole UK

02/08/2010, 10:23:53 AM

Can Labour provide a leader for the whole UK? It may seem like a strange question to ask, but it is something that party members who live in Northern Ireland ask daily.

Labour did many great things for my province while it was in government, but one thing is still outstanding – leadership.

During the last election, Cameron tried to seize an opportunity that no other party in Westminster has publicly tried to do before – he wanted to have a government that would represent the whole of the United Kingdom and would contest every Westminster seat to ensure that that happened. (more…)

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