Any rags, any bones, any bottles today…

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All right, so there are a few straws in the wind about political realignment in the North. We’ll start off with unionism, and the ongoing existential crisis of the Official Unionists. The DUP has been pressing the OUP for talks on an electoral pact for the next Westminster poll, and Sir Reggie isn’t ruling it out. This seems bizarre, given that Reggie has been talking up the possibility of the OUP playing an oppositional role at Stormont. It is doubly bizarre when you realise that at the last Stormont election the DUP was ahead of the OUP in seventeen out of eighteen constituencies. (The OUP pipped the DUP by 99 votes in the overwhelmingly nationalist Newry and Armagh, but that was entirely due to Paul Berry’s sports massage problem.) So we can assume that Robbo’s talk of “maximising” unionist representation boils down to the OUP withdrawing its candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, West Tyrone, Mid-Ulster, South Down and possibly South Belfast. Does Reggie have a death wish? Or does he reckon that doing a deal with the Paisleyites is the only way the rump OUP can survive?

Mid-Ulster OUP MLA Billy Armstrong has at least taken this to its logical conclusion. Under the New Dispensation, Billy reckons, there is no need for two pro-agreement unionist parties, so there should be a merger. Under the present balance of forces, this would mean the OUP rump subsuming itself into the DUP.

Meanwhile, there continue to be rumblings about the possible formation of a new anti-agreement unionist party to challenge the DUP from the right. The steady trickle of resigning DUP councillors suggests there might be critical mass for at least a small party along these lines. I hope this happens, if only for the entertainment value of seeing Big Ian being called a Lundy. The problem is that the unionist ultras are a scattered and demoralised lot. They have no seats in Stormont, most of them hate each other, and their most credible leader, Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney, has now retired from politics, much to this blog’s regret. As a result, the putative leader is MEP Jim Allister, who was elected to Strasbourg on the DUP ticket to replace Big Ian. Unfortunately, Jim has all the charisma of an oven glove, so any attempt by him to assume Papa Doc’s mantle as the leader of unionism is probably doomed.

On the other side of the fence, we have the announcement that Fianna Fáil is to start organising seriously in the North, with an eye to contesting the next Stormont election. (Also, see WorldbyStorm on this.) It’s a bit of a turnaround – although Fine Gael and Irish Labour were founded as 32-county parties and shrunk back to the Free State (Labour is to some extent reversing this), FF was resolutely partitionist in its own organisation until setting up a small and reclusive cumann in Derry a couple of years back. Presumably, Bertie is still concerned about PSF eating into the FF base in the South, wants to take on the Provos at source and has found the SDLP not fit for purpose.

This really is another nail in the coffin of the South Down and Londonderry Party. Since it’s hard to see anyone in the Six, except maybe for the Derry traders who set up the SDLP in the first place, actively wanting to support FF, what we are presumably looking at is a takeover (hence Durkan not rejecting a “merger”) whereby the Attwood brothers’ vast electoral nous would be supplanted by that of PJ Mara. One assumes PJ couldn’t do any worse.

But this points up a possible alternative strategy for Sir Reggie and the boys. Why doesn’t the OUP negotiate a merger with Fine Gael? Both sit in the same Strasbourg group, both are parties with dubious long-term prospects – shouldn’t Sir Reggie and Electric Enda be natural partners?

4 Comments

  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 18, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    That’s a mischievous suggestion you make in that last paragraph… I had to laugh 🙂

  2. Ed Hayes said,

    September 19, 2007 at 8:42 am

    Once again, and throwing caution, critical facualties and any reasonable ascessments to the wind; the SDLP will not die out; a substantial section of Northern nationalism hates the Provos; always will. No matter how many Caitriona Ruanes are thrown at it (in fact especially while Ruane is thrown at it).

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 19, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    I agree up to a point. Up to the point that there will always be a market for a nationalist party that isn’t the Provos… whether that is the SDLP is another matter.

    And come on – Caitriona was far worse when she wasn’t a Shinner. Strange but true.

  4. September 22, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    […] on Fianna Fáil’s excellent adventure in the North: on Radio Ulster’s Inside Politics today, SDLP deputy leader and South Belfast MP […]


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