Nationalist parties need a common goal
Nationalist parties need a common goal

By Jim Gibney, (for the Irish News)

In the aftermath of the recent elections two main stories continue to dominate northern politics, changing trends within nationalism and unionism. This article looks at the fall out within the nationalist camp.

The election result was remarkable for Sinn Féin and good for the SDLP.

It was the most difficult election that Sinn Féin has fought in recent years.

For the last six months Sinn Féin, its voters and potential voters, were at the centre of a demonisation campaign orchestrated by the southern political establishment and sections of the media.

A media storm generated against Sinn Féin had the objective of morally blackmailing and guilt-tripping nationalist voters.

The intensity and relentless nature of the campaign was aimed at limiting Sinn Féin’s electoral growth and helping the SDLP.

Sinn Féin, its voters and potential voters, were held responsible for events which had nothing to do with them - the Northern Bank robbery, the killing of Robert McCartney, the failure of last December’s negotiations, the existence of the IRA.

The campaign was systematically stoked by members of the Irish government, including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and SDLP leader Mark Durkan.

Some of the media indulged themselves in a feast of anti-Sinn Féin black propaganda on a daily basis. Innuendo and downright distortion were given free rein.

The election result shows that Sinn Féin’s supporters saw through the vilification campaign; 174,530 voted for the party on May 5.

The result is a tribute to those who voted and to those who worked for Sinn Féin.

Worthy of special note is the result in Newry/Armagh, Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Short Strand, Lower Falls where Sinn Féin took all five seats and the breakthrough on councils, Coleraine, Ballymena and Banbridge.

Sinn Féin emerged from the election with a three per cent increased share of the vote, an additional MP in Conor Murphy in Newry/Armagh, and 126 councillors - an increase of 18.

The SDLP’s share of the vote slipped by a few per cent. They maintained their number of MPs, lost Newry/Armagh and won South Belfast. Capturing South Belfast was a feather in their cap and a welcome win for nationalists.

The SDLP performed better than they and some correspondents thought they would.

Compared to the treatment of Sinn Féin by the media they were given an easy time. Their biggest issue was the occasional question about their decline and the impact of John Hume’s departure.

On their side was the sustained campaign of vilification against Sinn Féin and the high profile assistance they got from Irish government ministers.

So, it is no surprise they did well.

In any post election analysis Sinn Féin and the SDLP must go beyond simply a seat count. Northern nationalists will demand and expect much more than this because the political stakes are higher than the fortunes of either party.

The north is not a normal society.

Partition and British government and unionist policy has created a legacy of inequality and discrimination for nationalists.

Nationalist’s rights will not be secured by appealing to the good nature of the British government or unionist parties.

They have to be campaigned for and when secured, copper-fastened in legislation.

While Sinn Féin consolidated their position as the lead party on the nationalist side the record shows they will pursue equal rights for everyone.

The vilification campaign of the last few months failed in its main objective to curtail Sinn Féin’s advance because the electorate rejected it.

The energy put into that campaign by the Irish government and the SDLP must now be redirected into building a new nationalist consensus in defence of the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and a plan to move us towards a united Ireland.

The democratic, civil and national rights of nationalists can best be achieved when there is a working nationalist consensus.

That is the main lesson of the Hume/Adams accord.

It is now time for all nationalist parties to unite around a common programme to advance the interests of Irish nationalists.

The practical outcome of achieving this objective will mean that all the people of this island will live in a country where discrimination and inequality is a thing of the past.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News