Category: Archive

Editorial: The South Antrim’s result

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Something like a funeral gloom now hangs over the heads of those who support the Good Friday Agreement, thanks to the triumph of the Rev. William McCrea last week in the South Antrim by-election. McCrea of the Paisley-ite Democratic Unionist Party overturned a 16,000 vote majority enjoyed by the last Ulster Unionist Party incumbent who held the seat. Though DUP man scraped home with little more than an 800-vote margin, his victory, two weeks before the Ulster Unionist Party annual conference, is being seen as decidedly ominous.

Now, the pundits and the politicians are examining the result like haruspices peering at the entrails of a sacrificial animal in an attempt to discern the future of the 1998 accords.

McCrea, a Free Presbyterian Minister and gospel singer who records in Nashville Tenn., and his mentor, the Rev. Ian Paisley, believe the result presages the beginning of the end of the Good Friday Agreement. Some Ulster Unionists are behaving as if it does. David Trimble, the party leader, along with John Taylor, his deputy, and Jeffrey Donaldson, his rival for the leadership, are all now singing the same tune — more or less. And it is one that is dear to Willy McCrea’s heart. In fact, it is the similar to the Unionist tune that we have been hearing for decades. Not "Not an Inch" but rather, "Not Another Inch".

The lyrics are simple:

No to the full implementation of Patten reforms to the RUC.

No concessions on flags and emblems.

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No more truck with Sinn Féin until the IRA allows another inspection/and/or decommissioning.

And so on.

That is, Unionists are once again using Trimble’s weakness as an excuse not to move forward. But the problem with this strategy is that this very weakness encourages the anti-agreement Unionists to become more threatening.

It is a classic case of appeasement and it should be rejected forcefully by the British government.

The circumstances of the UUP’s defeat have to been examined carefully to arrive at an accurate estimation of its significance.

The UUP candidate, David Burnside, was a word-spinning PR interloper who was in fact anti-agreement, but in the kind of qualified, ambiguous way that was sure to arouse Protestant suspicions and distrust.

The turn-out, as Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson has correctly pointed out, was 43 percent — low for a Northern Ireland election. The last time the turn out was that low, in North Down in 1997 when it dropped to 38 percent, it saw the election of another anti-peace process unionist, Robert McCartney.

In South Antrim, many pro-agreement Unionists must have stayed home. And those pro-agreement Ulster Unionists who did vote were forced to vote for an anti-agreement Unionist candidate. No wonder there was a certain amount of apathy.

Apathy was the real victor in South Antrim. The result certainly proves Plato was right when he observed that those who do not exercise their democratic rights are destined to be ruled by their inferiors.

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