Thursday’s Northern Ireland Assembly election proved a sad day for all Loyal Ulstermen and their friends across our increasingly Disunited Kingdom.
The costly shambles over the Renewable Heat Incentive (otherwise known as ‘Cash for Ash’) was cynically exploited by two parties – Sinn Fein and (shamefully) the Official Unionist Party – but predictably only Sinn Fein benefited.
Terrorist sympathiser Michelle O’Neill thus took a step closer to becoming First Minister of Northern Ireland, while the IRA godfathers behind her celebrated yet another own goal by the Unionist establishment.
With the Assembly reduced to 90 seats, the target for the Democratic Unionist Party was 30 seats – enough to ensure an effective veto known as a “petition of concern”, but they have fallen two seats short. Critically this means that even with the support of Jim Allister, leader of Traditional Unionist Voice, who retained his seat in North Antrim, the DUP will not have the 30 votes required for an effective block on (for example) gay marriage.
As for broader issues of who now runs Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein are likely to use their strengthened position to claim the scalp of Arlene Foster, DUP leader and outgoing First Minister. Edwin Poots, re-elected for the DUP in Lagan Valley, supported his leader today but hinted that she might be considering her position.
While it is unlikely that the DUP and Sinn Fein will be able to agree a new coalition within the official three week deadline, something will doubtless be patched up in due course to avoid a return to direct rule from London, which would be a disaster for Prime Minister Theresa May.
The big loser on Thursday – deservedly – was Official Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt who resigned after the failure of his opportunistic effort to destabilise the DUP. Nesbitt had called on his supporters to give their second preference votes to the nationalist SDLP rather than to the DUP, a shocking betrayal of the unionist interest.
Meanwhile UKIP confirmed their utter irrelevance in Northern Ireland. They contested just one Assembly constituency – East Antrim – but this tactic of concentrating their resources failed miserably. UKIP candidate and Carrickfergus councillor Noel Jordan was eliminated with just 4.2% of first preferences. (The Assembly is elected by the Single Transferable Vote system, with each constituency now electing five MLAs.)
Mr Jordan told the Belfast Newsletter:
“We just don’t know what happened. I can’t explain why our vote has dropped.”
Dr Peter Doran lectures in “sustainable development and governance” at Queen’s University Belfast and has worked for the United Nations on environmental issues. Some years ago he was a candidate for the Green Party, for example at the Upper Bann by-election in 1990.
Dr Doran has now turned a different shade of green, and is Sinn Fein candidate in the Lagan Valley constituency at today’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections. He also writes for a pro-Republican blog.
Quite disgracefully, as pointed out in a letter to the Belfast Newsletter by Robbie Butler (Ulster Unionist candidate for Lagan Valley), Dr Doran has failed to condemn the IRA’s murder of his fellow Queen’s University law lecturer Edgar Graham, who was shot dead on the Queen’s campus in December 1983. Unsurprising as Dr Doran is a candidate for the political wing of the IRA, the direct descendants of Edgar Graham’s killers.
Fortunately Dr Doran stands no chance of being elected in Lagan Valley today. He should perhaps remember that Loyal Ulstermen have had their own way of dealing with terrorists and their apologists – Sheena Campbell (who was Sinn Fein candidate in the same Upper Bann by-election when Dr Doran stood for the Greens, and was the fiancée of IRA bomber and sniper Brendan Curran) was executed by the UVF in October 1992.
This afternoon nominations closed for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. Voters in the province go to the polls on the same day as the London, English local, Scottish Parliamentary and Welsh Assembly elections on May 5th. At the previous NI Assembly election in 2011 the BNP had three candidates, but neither the BNP nor NF will have candidates in Northern Ireland this year, nor will any of the smaller racial nationalist parties.
The main concern of most H&D readers in Ulster will be to see that those political forces prepared to resist Sinn Fein (political arm of the terrorist IRA) maximise their vote. Due to the terms under which the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive were constituted, following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, power sharing among the various parties is guaranteed, with executive positions being allocated to any party with a significant number of Assembly seats.
Nevertheless there will be considerable interest in how the balance within unionism works out between the once dominant Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose leader Arlene Foster is the outgoing First Minister, the dissident Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and various independents, such as former DUP activist Billy Dickson, who is standing in South Belfast.
UKIP has made some modest inroads in Northern Ireland, mostly winning votes within the unionist community, but won no Assembly seats at the last election in 2011 and will probably fail again, despite the proportional electoral system which gives some chance to smaller parties. The big story here is in South Down, where Henry Reilly (then UKIP’s chairman in Northen Ireland) achieved his party’s best result by far in 2011, polling 5.6%. Mr Reilly was expelled from UKIP in November 2015 following an internal dispute and now sits as a TUV councillor – he will be TUV candidate for the Assembly this year, and UKIP will have no candidate in South Down. Mr Reilly has denounced his former party for changing its policy and becoming too much in favour of the Good Friday Agreement: “In my view the GFA is not working and needs radical root and branch reform. That is what Ukip previously stood for. Now they are just another small-pro-agreement party.”
Mr Reilly has a strong chance of winning an Assembly seat this year, particularly with his strong personal vote in the fishing port of Kilkeel.
In North Antrim, Donna Anderson, a former TUV councillor who defected to UKIP, will be standing for the Assembly against TUV’s leader Jim Allister, who is almost certain to be re-elected. UKIP will be contesting 13 of the 18 constituencies: aside from South Down, they are missing only the Republican/Catholic strongholds of West Belfast, West Tyrone, Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Foyle.