NI Assembly election and ‘silent middle’

 

Sir, – I don’t agree with your editorial comment that the middle ground in Northern Ireland has found its voice, and that it has been “silent – and sidelined“ in the past (“The silent middle finds its voice”, May 9th).

In reality the middle ground wasn’t heard because it didn’t exist in any great numbers, as evidenced by the dominance of the more extreme, tribal parties over the last 50 years. The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 at the beginning of the Troubles and for 40 years there simply weren’t enough non-polarised voters for it to make any real difference.

This state of affairs continued until the last decade or so, when a few more young people chose not to adopt the votes of their parents and grandparents.

This change is due to a number of factors, including the rise in living standards, a more global outlook, EU membership, the Belfast Agreement and the fall in church membership.

However, the future is still not that bright – most of Northern Ireland still votes for the extreme parties, Brexit will continue to divide Northern Ireland, education is still polarised, inflation will increase anger and UK Tory governments will continue to inflame passions.

Sadly I fear that the “deep structural shift” that your editorial rather optimistically announced is merely a tiny, temporary blip and Northern Ireland can easily revert to the extreme polarisation of the past. – Yours, etc,

AOIFE LORD,

Tankardstown,

Co Meath.

Sir,– While the Sinn Féin vote did increase by 1.1 per cent the number of seats it won remained static, while the SDLP vote decreased by nearly 3 per cent and the party lost four seats. The UUP was able to hold its losses to 1.7 per cent and only lose one seat, perhaps reflecting the retention of voters supporting the new liberal direction of the party under Doug Beattie. Unless the SDLP can mark out a new direction for itself, its future is bleak.

The clear winner of the election was the Alliance Party, which increased its vote by 4.5 per cent and won an additional nine seats. The party took votes from both the green and orange electorates, perhaps reflecting a disillusionment or weariness among voters of the “dreary steeple” dialogue within the nationalist and unionist communities. The attraction of the Alliance Party for this electorate is primarily not what the party stands for but what it does not not stand for – it is neither green nor orange. The party has skilfully ducked and dived on the constitutional issue by simply ignoring the elephant in the room.

However, at some point the constitutional issue will come centre stage, and whether the party wishes to remain firmly detached on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will ultimately determine its long-term success. – Yours, etc,

PAUL WALSH,

Skerries,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Congratulations to Sinn Féin on its historic win in the election.

However, before we all get carried away with this win and what it might mean for the future of this Island, we need to remember that the combined unionist parties won 35 seats in the Assembly.

The results of this election have more to do with the divisions within unionism than it has to do with the place of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

We know about these divisions and Sinn Féin certainly benefited.

However, if the conversation about a border poll or a united Ireland comes onto the agenda at any point in the next few years, it will be interesting to see how unionism responds.

I suspect whatever divides them will be far less important than what unites them. – Yours, etc,

PAULA MOLLOY,

Baldoyle,

Dublin 13.

A chara, – Much has been made of the fact that nationalist and unionist parties each achieved 40 per cent of the vote and 35 seats in the Assembly elections, with the Alliance, Greens, Independents, and People Before Profit achieving the remaining 20 per cent of the vote and 20 seats.

Of possibly more immediate significance, pro-protocol parties achieved 56.1 per cent of the vote, almost double the total for the explicitly anti-protocol DUP and TUV of 28.9 per cent.

I have excluded the UUP from both totals as they refused to attend anti-protocol rallies and are in favour of practical reforms to the protocol to reduce trade frictions – a position common to all pro-protocol parties. Interestingly, the 56 per cent pro-protocol vote is exactly the same as the Remain vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum

Anti-protocol parties have insisted that it lacks cross-community consent, but exactly the same applies to Brexit, which they pursued regardless, and of which the protocol is part. And if Brexit must be accepted as a UK-wide decision, then so too must the protocol.

Furthermore, it appears the DUP only require cross-community consent when it is they who want to block something. When a large majority of the people of Northern Ireland opposed Brexit, the DUP ignored them.

Pro-protocol parties will have a two to one, 53 to 26 majority in the Assembly, which is due to vote on the protocol in 2024, and every five years thereafter. Why don’t the anti-protocol parties accept the democratic verdict of the electorate and of any Assembly votes in the future? Or is this a tribal rather than democratic issue? – Is mise,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Blessington,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The people of Northern Ireland have endured tribal politics for almost a century. That mould is beginning to crack. The young are coming of age with ideas of their own. The old appetite for 50 per cent plus one, “my way or no way”, politics is unattractive to the younger generation. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DEASY,

Bandon,

Co Cork