Irish Republican News · November 16, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Leave messy voting to the working class

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

The Taoiseach has let it be known that he and Tony Blair are thinking of a staged return to operating the Good Friday Agreement, starting with the assembly being resurrected in

shadow form, whatever that means.

Then ‘if there is agreement’, they hope to have full partnership administration and the all-Ireland bodies in place again by next spring. Some hope.

There won’t be agreement because there’s no pressure on either of the two main protagonists to reach agreement.

Nothing either Dublin or London can do can compel them to toe the line and certainly any hope Gerry Adams has that Blair will exert any pressure on unionists is a pipe dream: he never has and there is no evidence that he ever will.

It’s not simply pressure from the two governments that is absent. More important is that there is no pressure from their electorates in the north either.

Consider this. In last June’s European elections, the SDLP vote crashed by a catastrophic 103,000 from the 1999 Euro elections.

Sinn Féin increased its vote and its share of the vote, but - and this is the point - only 27,000 of the lost 103,000 SDLP votes switched to Sinn Féin.

The others didn’t vote for anyone.

It was the same on the unionist side. The UUP’s vote was down by 28,000 on 1999.

But the DUP’s vote was down too, by 16,000: there was no swing to the DUP from the UUP. The total unionist vote was down by 88,000. So 44,000 unionists who voted in 1999 didn’t vote for anyone in 2004.

You can break it down further. There was a high turnout west of the Bann - over 60 per cent - and in republican districts in Belfast. However, in plush north Down and Strangford the turnout was less than 40 per cent.

In short, the figures on both sides present an extraordinary picture that no-one seems to notice, or at least pay any attention to. It’s this. Sinn Féin and the DUP have been made the two main parties in the north by an overwhelmingly working-class vote on both sides of the sectarian divide while the middle classes, and certainly the unionist middle class, don’t vote at all.

It is a picture unique in the democratic world, where it is a given that the middle class tends to vote but the working class tends not to.

Why should this be such an outcome here? One answer obviously is that the middle classes on both sides have decided that what goes on at Stormont is toy-town stuff and the two governments will retain control of any power that really matters and ensure that neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin will break any delft in the offices they’re let into.

The middle classes are content that London will continue to subsidise their lifestyles and that no party here will be allowed to affect them.

The ‘Northern Ireland Life and Times’ survey shows that two-thirds of Protestants are either against devolution full stop, or couldn’t care less.

Seventy per cent of them think that the Good Friday Agreement has benefited Catholics.

Over 40 per cent think the agreement should be radically changed or abandoned. Pretty close to the DUP position, eh?

For years the unionist middle class has been criticised for opting out of politics. If the dramatic collapse of the SDLP vote last June is anything to go by, then the unionist business and professional classes now have their mirror image on the nationalist side.

What this means is that Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair can huff and puff about forcing the pace if they like. If they held an election to an assembly on joint government proposals the result would be even more political polarisation, or - to be blunt - the complete destruction of the SDLP and UUP.

There is another conclusion which reinforces the point even more strongly. The truth is that the middle classes on both sides in fact agree with the respective positions of the DUP and Sinn Féin and know they don’t have to do anything to ensure that the positions remain as they are.

All they have to do is sit there and allow the great unwashed on both sides to swarm out and vote SF and DUP. After all, from 1979-1999 given the choice in any European election, over 50 per cent of unionists who voted, voted for Paisley, which is a crystal clear message is it not?

The evidence of elections suggests that neither community trusts the so-called politicians from the other community to run their lives. In fact they’d prefer that Dublin and London ran their lives, perhaps more formally than they do at present.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News