Preas Ráitheas / Press Release – 05/03/2017
“The Stormont elections on March 3, 2017 saw Unionist parties losing the majority in the partionist assembly for the first time since the British-imposed partition of Ireland. While commentators and constitutional Nationalists celebrate these elections as a political earthquake, Stormont remains an assembly kept under the strict control of British imperialism, designed to give British rule in Ireland a democratic mantle.
Under those circumstances, the winners of these elections are the Nationalist new middle-class while it is a defeat for the working-class in the Six Occupied Counties, both Nationalist and Loyalist. The following comment by Republican Sinn Féin is the Editorial of the Republican newspaper SAOIRSE, March 2017.
The elections saw Unionists lose their overall majority in the Belfast Assembly. They now outnumber Nationalists by just one seat. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) also ended ahead of the Provisional party by just one seat, having entered the election ten seats ahead of the latter.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation after losing six seats, while DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster evaded the media after her party plunged below the 30-seat threshold needed to trigger Stormont’s veto mechanism, called “petition of concern”.
The DUP emerged with 28 seats, the Provisionals have 27, SDLP 12, UUP 10, Alliance Party 8, Greens 2, People Before Profit 1, Traditional Unionist Voice 1, and 1 independent Unionist. That leaves 40 Unionists and 39 Nationalists, with the remainder of the 90 Assembly members affiliated to neither of the two blocks.
The significance of the Unionist loss becomes obvious if the numbers are compared with other elections since 1921. At the first elections following the partition of Ireland in 1921, Unionists held 77% of the seats in the newly-formed partitionist assembly in Belfast. This Unionist majority reached its peak in 1938 when Unionists held 81% of the seats. The numbers fell to 71% in 1958 but remained stable until 1969. In the year the British army was deployed to Ireland, Unionists gained 75% of the seats in the partionist assembly.
Following the outbreak of the war, the number of seats held by Unionists slightly fell to 64% in 1973, a number that remained stable until 1982 when Unionists gained 65%. At the elections in 1996, Unionist seats fell again to 55%. However, until the elections in 2016, Unionist still secured a majority of seats. Last year, this meant that Unionists held 56 of 108 seats. Only ten months later, this Unionist majority in the partitionist assembly is gone. Of the 90 seats available in 2017, Unionist candidates only gained 40 which make 44%.
While commentators and constitutional Nationalist politicians such as the Provisionals and the SDLP celebrate the election results as a victory, it is indeed a setback for Republicans and the Irish working-class.
Republican Sinn Féin called for a boycott of the Stormont elections. We, as revolutionary Republicans, accept neither the partition of Ireland nor any partitionist assemblies imposed by British imperialism in Belfast and Dublin. The fundamentally undemocratic nature of the Stormont assembly becomes obvious in the very fact that parties are forced to administer British interests by forming a coalition within three weeks, otherwise the British government will reintroduce direct rule. In other words, the Stormont parties have to make the decision between direct British rule and indirect British rule. In any case, the result will be the fostering of British rule, no matter if the legislative body sits in Belfast or in London.
The system established under the 1998 Belfast Agreement is not a power-sharing but a sectarian one, designed to uphold British rule. Under this system, power-sharing means the sharing of power between the upper-and middle-classes on both sides of the communal divide. This power-sharing between the old Unionist upper-class and the newly-established Catholic/ Nationalist middle-class ensures further exploitation of the Irish working-class and opened the war-torn region to US and EU financial interests. While Nationalists gained political civil rights, social inequality, economic exploitation, and poverty increased.
Meanwhile, former Republicans turned constitutional Nationalists accepted the continued occupation of the Six Counties and its status within the ‘United Kingdom’. To be sure, the acceptance of the status quo is an abandonment of Republican aims. We as Irish Republicans are convinced that social justice and lasting peace will only be achieved within a United Ireland. Our solution is a federal, democratic, socialist Republic as outlined in the Republican programme Éire Nua, first drafted in the early 1970s.
Nonetheless, the number of people voting in these elections rose. The 2011 census conducted in the Six Occupied Counties revealed that the once unassailable Protestant majority was in decline, while the growing Nationalist population was likely to become the largest community. This development has been reflected in recent elections. Following the RHI scandal and the demographic shifts in society, the decline of Unionist parties is no surprise. Yet, for Republicans the gains of the Provisionals and, simultaneously, the stagnation of the radical People Before Profit Alliance and the loss of the assembly seat by Socialist veteran Éamonn McCann in Derry, are warning signs.
Republicans need to learn the lesson from these developments. If we learn the lessons of these elections, we will ensure that Republicanism and the Irish working-class will be the true winners of these elections. The lessons of these elections are that, in a situation of inequality, mass poverty, unemployment, and corruption within the political elites in Belfast and Dublin, people are looking for an alternative.
The Provisional party is sowing the illusion that this alternative can be delivered by a partitioned Ireland. And far too many people bought these lies. We need to provide an alternative and we need to do it now! By convincing people that the Northern Irish statelet can provide a better future for the people, the Provisionals are strengthening the Union with Britain and, thus, they are the true cheerleaders of British rule in Ireland.
Indeed, only the full and true independence and unification of Ireland will provide a better future for all the people of Ireland. The end of British occupation and the re-unification of the island do not only make economic, social, and political sense, it is, moreover, a fundamental and undeniable right of the Irish people to decide on its future themselves, free of foreign intervention. The lessons of the March 3 elections are: No matter what party you vote for in a partionist assembly, the result will be British rule in Ireland!
Republican Sinn Féin held a successful White-line picket under the slogan “Stormont Must Go” on February 25 in Belfast (pictured). Activists of the Thomas Harte Cumann in North Armagh, furthermore, picketed election offices on the day of the elections.
These occasions were used to promote our vision of Éire Nua. All these actions were well received by the public. Republicans need to build on these protests and deepen our work for a New Ireland by promoting Éire Nua and unmasking the true nature of Stormont.
Republicans need to lead by example and show people that change can be delivered by hard and honest work on the ground within their communities and not by voting for advocates of the partition of Ireland and defenders of British rule in Ireland sitting in Stormont.”
Republican Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin Poblachtach
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