Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Tories Prove that Northern Ireland is Different

Dervla Murphy, the Irish travel writer, entitled her 1970s travel book on Northern Ireland A Place Apart. I have long contended that one of the main things that sets it apart from both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain is its party system. Until the simultaneous collapse of the Irish economy and Fianna Fail last year, no Northern Irish party had ever been more than a minor party in Ireland. As soon as the Workers' Party started to become a medium-size party after a decade in existence, it split with almost all of the Southern Irish TDs splitting off to form the Democratic Left in 1992. By then the Workers' Party had become a minor party in the North thanks to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein itself remained a minor party until last year.

The same is true on the unionist side of Northern Ireland regarding British parties. No unionist party from Northern Ireland is organized on the British mainland, and until the early 1990s no British party was organized in Northern Ireland. Then pressure by Robert McCartney among others shamed the Conservative Party into organizing in Northern Ireland so that voters in the province would have a chance to vote for at least one of the parties responsible for running the government in London. The other two main British parties, the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) and the Labour Party, have refused to organized in the province but retain ties to the Alliance Party and the SDLP respectively. In 1998 I wrote that North Down was the only constituency had even a dream of electing a representative, but only a dream. The following article  by Alex Kane sums up that this remains a dream.

This is for a number of reasons. First, those unionists or Catholics who were liberal and political long ago joined the Alliance Party. Second, those unionists who aren't liberal and are political tend to be more interested in provincial affairs and combating the Republican menace (the groen gevaar as Afrikaners would say) then they are in contributing to the power of London in the province. Third, no nationalists are interested, almost by definition, in joining a British political party. This leaves a few well-off unionists who are snobs but who aren't well connected enough to be powers in the existing unionist parties.

So where does that leave Ulstermen who want to vote for English parties? They can vote for one party knowing that it will never elect representatives. It is hard to say whether NI Tories are better off or worse off than NI Labour supporters or NI LibDems. Is it better off to be left with an illusion or to have it stripped away? 

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