Category: Archive

Editorial Moderates awaken

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

As the election campaign hit high gear, with just days left before polling, the pundits were concluding that this time the outcome was too unpredictable to call. This in itself is an interesting turn of events. It was not so long ago that many were confidently proclaiming that the pro-agreement Ulster Unionist Party and its leader, David Trimble, would be eaten alive by the attack dogs of the Paisleyite Democratic Unionist Party.

However, that confidence of an outright DUP triumph was been dented. People are now being more cautious, suggesting that this will not be a repeat of the 1974 debacle of the pro-Sunningdale Unionists under Brian Faulkner. It seems that the bark of the DUP is proving worse than its bite.

This is partly because of the fact that in an otherwise uncertain election, the one certainty that has emerged over the weeks is that all sides — DUP, UUP, SDLP, and Sinn Fein — love devolution. That is the one thing on which they all agree.

Consider the remarks made by Peter Robinson, the Rev. Ian Paisley’s henchman and a bitter critic of Trimble: "Unless we have a structure that can enjoy the support of Unionists and Nationalists alike, it is not going to last."

What has become increasingly obvious in recent days is that the anti-agreement forces are only "anti" some parts of the agreement, and have a strong wish to retain others, such as the devolved government in which two members of the DUP serve.

Of course, Paisley and his party blithely say they will "renegotiate" to remove those parts they do not like. How then (in the unlikely event that they succeeded) would they retain the support of Nationalists, who by their own admission are necessary for the success of any structures? It is really pie-in-the-sky politics that it is hoped the majority of Unionist voters will recognize as such.

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Devoid of any real ideas, the anti-agreement Unionists have resorted to insult and vilification concentrated on Trimble himself. The mish-mash of Paisleyite blather about traitors, which he has flung at anyone from Terence O’Neill onward who stood up for progress and decency, has been aimed at Trimble. Still, regardless of Paisley’s undoubted ability to slow progress, he has not stopped it. Nor will he now. The fact that his own deputy leader accepts the need for Nationalists to be equal partners in any settlement is eloquent proof of that.

Understandably, as tensions mount and nerves are frayed and election day dawns, people fall into hyperbole. The battle for West Tyrone was this week characterized as the SDLP’s "Stalingrad," the implication being that if it loses to Sinn Fein then the republican storm troopers will sweep all before them. The origins of the metaphor are disputed — some say it came from a piece in the Irish Times, and others pin the blame of its coinage on a prominent SDLP member trying to stir up his forces to greater efforts.

This is not an apocalypse-now scenario — but a fight between two democratically elected parties whose fate and fortunes depend on the will of the people. Trying to scare voters is dangerous and in the long run counterproductive.

There is no doubt that should there be losses by the SDLP, it will portend a crisis within the party, but it is one that has been long foreseen and of the sort that any democratic party must go through if it is to adapt and change. However, like the wake for Trimble, the dirge for the SDLP could prove premature. At any rate, we will know soon enough.

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