Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Critical Condition? The Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Taking into consideration the fact that the UUP has helped engineer a situation where there is a greater degree of normality in everyday life, how does one account for their electoral decline? It isn't that long ago that many unionist voters would have felt embarrassed voting for a DUP candidate.

The UUP has been hopelessly divided since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Donaldson walked out at that stage and has been destroying the party from within ever since, in alliance with the 'old guard', people like old Lord Jim Moyneux, former party leader and stalwart of the 'not an inch' approach to unionism. David Trimble led the allegedly pro-agreement wing of the party, but never behaved as though he actually did support the agreement. There were constant walk-outs, an obsession with IRA decommissioning and a refusal to treat nationalists and republicans as equals. The insistence on keeping the Northern Ireland police 90% Protestant is hared by all of unionism's leading figures. Increasingly, the party tore itself apart in highly public showdowns. Trimble kept winning, but kept failing to act decisively against Donaldson and his cohorts. Elections were fought with absurdly mixed messages. In the end, unionists lost confidence in the part. Added to this, the DUP has been steadily becoming more respectable. The 'young unionists' who left the UUP included some of the so-called 'baby barristers'. Several of the DUP's leading figures are now university educated, like North Belfast MP and MLA, Nigel Dodds. The party is keen to show these days that it isn't just the political wing of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, though it won't go too far in that direction, not wishing to alienate the original sectarian base.

On the nationalist side, looking at the efforts of the SDLP over the past decade of so, from the Hume/Adams initiative to the Good Friday Agreement, why has their popularity declined so dramatically? Surely it isn't all down to John Hume's retirement.

John Hume led the SDLP from its earliest days as a civil rights party, through the talks with Sinn Féin and into the Good Friday Agreement. His deputy, Séamus Mallon, was once described as 'playing second fiddle in a one-man band'. The older generation of the party spent many years in a frustrating political vacuum. A younger generation was not encouraged to grow.

Now the older men (and most of them are men) are tired. Some are retiring, some should. Some are not going graciously. They do tetchy TV interviews and blame the media when things go badly.

The SDLP paid a heavy price for Hume's work in building the peace process. Castigated at first for talking to Sinn Féin while the IRA as still murdering people, the party has seen its young rival overtake it at the polls. The SDLP had to concentrate on Sinn Féin because it was trying to bring it along a certain route – Sinn Féin concentrated on itself.

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