So now it’s settled. Nationalists and republicans in different constituencies are nursing their wounds or pogo-dancing and yelling “Gwan ya boy ya!”.
There was a time when Fermanagh/South Tyrone got all the focus. Remember when Michelle Gildernew held up four fingers – or was it five? – to indicate the size of her majority, and thanked the carload of students who’d come down from Belfast? In this election, the attention given to Fermanagh/South Tyrone was less concentrated. There was a feeling that Michelle would see off Tom Elliott. Actually, I’m still marveling that Tom Elliott managed to out-poll Michelle on even one occasion. I mean, who’d you rather have a beer with? Mivhelle managed it by an unnerving 57.
No,yesterday’s Fermanagh/South Tyrone is today’sNorth Belfast. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is that John Finucane is a Finucane. The Finucane family have had a unique place in the hearts of just about every nationalist/republican in Ireland since 1989. The fact that three weeks before Pat Finucane’s death, Douglas Hogg complained in the House of Commons that “some solicitors are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA” added to the outrage at his death.
How was it possible that Pat Finucane, a popular, energetic lawyer, could be butchered as he sat down to a family meal with his wife and children? How was it possible that his death involved state collusion? And how is it possible that the Finucane family, so many decades later, are still being refused a public enquiry into his death? The silence in the face of these questions add to nationalist/republican sympathy for the Finucane family, of which John Finucane is perhaps the best known.
Then there’s the fact that John Finucane’s opponent in North Belfast was the deputy leader of the DUP, Nigel Dodds. There are people who’ll tell you that physical appearance in politics is totally unimportant. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe John F Kennedy’s youthful good looks shouldn’t have contrasted so strongly with those of Richard M Nixon, back in 1960 – and yes, TV viewers thought JFK won the debate but radio listeners were convinced RMN had won.
None of us can help the face we got, but those posters around North Belfast of a scowling black and white Nigel beside an open-faced colour image of John said it all.
Mixed in with all this is the fact that Dodds is the leading DUP figure at Westminster. And that Gerry Kelly, in election after election, kept narrowing the gap between Sinn Féin and the DUP. And that the unionist percentage of the vote has been in steady decline.And that John Finucane last time out got within two thousand votes of the DUP man.
Finally, there’s the fact that Nigel Dodds is a Brexiteer and his party is a Brexiteer party. 56% of people in the north of Ireland voted to remain within the EU, and non-Sinn Féin voters were smart enough to act on the fact that while they disliked Sinn Féin, they detest Dodds the Brexiter. The Gilbert-and-Sullivan absurdity of the Chief Brexiteer expecting anti-Bresiteers to vote for him is truly laughable.
That said, the DUP are still the largest party in our Tormented Louse-ridden Colony (TLC). You may conclude that the DUP are masters (and mistresses) of deception, that the business and farmng community, even though they know the DUP are diametrically opposed to their interests, still vote for them.
But not all, remember – 56% opposed to Brexit of necessity includes unionists with their heads screwed on. Did that show in the recent elections? Hardly – the DUP still won eight seats.
It’s a classic case of what we used to call the crown and the half-crown: there are those unionists who will continue to vote for the DUP, event though the traditional myth of a priest-ridden south is now only a memory, as is the poverty-stricken south in general. Like an amputated limb, the reasons for resisting Home/Rome rule are risible today but they still go on.
“Brexit has changed everything” people are fond of saying. It certainly has changed North Belfast. Not forgetting Belfast generally. Once a unionist city, it’s now nationalist if you look West or South or North.
And did I mention that the majority of MPs now elected are non-unionist?
The boat is leaking badly and getting worse, guys. Time to come ashore and be welcomed for what you are: Irish people.