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Stormont's Westminster election

Months after restoration, all the old crap floats to the surface

8 June 2024

DUP leader Gavin Robinson.

Amid the battles raging around the British elections and the European elections in Ireland, the North's Westminster elections are seen as a diversion, mainly significant in that they have interrupted the settling down process for the new Stormont administration. Yet they are a significant stress test, and one which the local politicians are failing.

The main interest is in the fortunes of the DUP. They hold the largest number of seats (8) but since the sudden departure of Jeffrey Donaldson following rape charges, the Lagan Valley constituency is at risk. The new DUP leader, Gavin Robinson, will need the full vote of the unionist and loyalist alliance to head off the challenge of Alliance leader Naomi Long.

The central issue of this election, as with them all, is who will hold a sectarian advantage. The dominant element is unionist fragmentation, giving Sinn Féin hopes of emerging as the major party, even though its overall vote has peaked and it has been damaged by its decision to attend the Biden White House despite the Gaza genocide.

This will not be a significant change. Even if the DUP vote declines, the overall majority of the combined unionist parties will remain. In any case, the quiet unionism in the catholic middle class would ensure the continuation of partition.

An indication of this is the Sinn Féin decision to stand aside in four constituencies to help aid “progressive” candidates, mostly the Alliance party. As the Alliance party is a unionist party, the issue of a comfortable position in the North clearly overwhelms any question of a unified Irish democracy.

The real issue in the election is the inherent instability of the local administration. The election began with a savage austerity budget passed by the Stormont administration. The parties were unable to produce a programme for government or to produce any revenue proposals despite British pressure. That's because Stormont only functions to share out the British subvention. The PbP candidate, Gerry Carroll, expresses disappointment at the budget but remains convinced that an electoral strategy can succeed.  He agrees with Sinn Féin that a border poll organised by the British is the magic bullet to end partition.

A recent major enquiry into the Covid emergency exposed astounding levels of incompetence and corruption both in the administration and in the medical and civil service. The response has been major figures like Robin Swann and Naomi Long standing in the Westminster election, stepping back from the new local administration. The New DUP leader, Gavin Robinson, has retreated from claims that the new policy of "Safeguarding the Union" represents a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol.

The outcome of the Westminster elections is largely an irrelevance in the North. The future in one of austerity, overseen by a corrupt administration and with unionism still uncertain of its commitment to its future operation.

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