The election – what will people think of us?

Pat Sheehan MLA

“What will people think of us?” the BBC presenter asked, and when he said it he reminded me of my Auntie Maggie. “What will people think of you?” she would say “with your elbows on the table and you chewing with your mouth open?” The BBC man – I think it was Seamus McKee – was talking not about elbows or mouths but the delay in getting the Assembly results announced. Over on UTV Brian Feeney and Deirdre Heenan were making similar tut-tutting sounds. Apparently we’d made ourselves a laughing stock in England and Wales and Scotland – or “nationally” as Deirdre put it.

When Auntie Maggie went on at me, I used to  murmur to myself what they now say ask in online discussions – wtf?  I cared what I thought, not  what they thought. And on Saturday I thought it again – wtf?  So we had to wait an extra twenty-four or forty-eight hours  – it really isn’t up there with world hunger or HIV as a problem.  And if we believe it is a problem let’s fix it for us, not the “nation” across the water.
Fussing about the delay was a distraction, just as  the prediction efforts of the TV pundits was a distraction. Pure guesswork and most of it off the mark. I was in the King’s Hall early Saturday afternoon and I asked Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan  about the prediction in some quarters that his seat – Gerry Adams’s old seat – was at risk. Sheehan smiled and reminded me that a unionist candidate in South Belfast that very morning had predicted she’d take the fifth seat and was now busy wiping egg off her face. “I usually wait until the results are in and then give my predictions” Sheehan said.  Quite.
So who won?  Well the DUP made the biggest seat-gain,  and its leader firmly fenced off the unionist middle ground by dedicating the party win to the late Ronan Kerr. Even more significantly, the softening of the DUP line was exemplified by Nigel Dodds referring on TV to Gerry Kelly as ‘Gerry’, although Dodds’s body language suggested he’d rather be sitting beside a dry toilet that hadn’t been emptied for the past month.  But middle ground is now the DUP ground of choice. Jim Allister is the wrecker, they are the builders.  Better still,  they’re building on their terms, with Sinn Féin having been forced to accept the police, forced to accept the state and with a bit of luck forced to polish the queen’s shoes when she visits the south later this month. Sinn Féin, for their part,  presents the election outcome as consolidation,  although as always they’re looking ahead to next time. In an interview on Saturday morning Gerry Adams said the party had already had a meeting about the next Assembly election. You can be sure Foyle, Mid-Ulster and North Belfast were on the agenda for that one. Maybe even some table-banging.  It’s easy to be dismissive of jam tomorrow, but this jam the Shinners can see and smell already.
Whether earned or not, the last Executive got the tag of being if not impotent then a bit less than priapic. An SDLP politician I spoke to on Saturday figured that the last lot of Stormont ministers were keen on getting power but useless at using it – with the exception, naturally, of the SDLP minister. Papa Paisley (God, he seems a long time ago) was fond of quoting that bit from the Bible “By their fruits shall ye know them”.  I suppose we may all offer a decade of the rosary that the next set of ministers is as good as the SDLP thought their man was, in the last one.  
[This article also appears in The Belfast Media Group newspapers this week]

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