Northern Ireland

Should Nationalists take part in gerrymandered elections? – On this day in 1923

December 6 1923

A correspondent whose service to the Nationalist cause in the past and devotion to the principle that political liberty and social improvement are the right of men and women of all creeds, politically and religiously, entitle his opinion to respectful consideration ,writes to say that the question has been put to him by hundreds within the past week.

“I have always answered in the affirmative,” he adds, “and I wish to say now that any Nationalist voter, man or woman, who neglects the opportunity provided by these contests for doing a citizen’s share in the great work of securing equal rights and privileges for the poor and the rich in one community does not deserve a place on the roll of electors. By all means, exercise the franchise.”

It is excellent advice. The two Belfast contests have not been inspired, organised, or fought out to the present stage by Nationalists. We have referred this week to the infamous gerrymandering trick played by Sir James Craig’s government to deprive the Nationalist and Catholic population of their just right to a fourth of the city’s representation on all public bodies. They added streets and parishes to the old historic constituency known all over the world as Nationalist West Belfast until the area falsely described in official documents as “West Belfast” was transformed into (by far) the biggest single-member parliamentary division in Ireland or Great Britain – perhaps in the civilised world.

By this crime against the constitutional procedure and ordinary fair dealing, all the Nationalists and Catholics of the city were practically disfranchised. Does anyone seriously contend that the people who were thus grossly wronged and insulted should stand aside and refrain from using the peaceful but powerful weapon of their citizenship when the dominance of the government of intriguers and wrong-doers is challenged from any quarter?

If a few individuals think, or say, the nominee of the gerrymandering government should be supported by a solitary Nationalist, people have heard about them – but not from them. West Belfast has been gerrymandered; so have Derry City, Nationalist areas in Co Down and Co Armagh, Co Fermanagh, all the towns in which Nationalists had majorities: and the statements made at yesterday’s meeting of the Tyrone County Council should be studied by the Nationalist who has any doubt regarding his duty to-day.

Apart from these considerations, it is the business of all right-minded men and women to do their part in the work of lifting the dead-weight of ascendancy from the weary shoulders of the community at large. The contests in Belfast are outward symptoms of a moral and intellectual revolt amongst thoughtful working and trading people against the dominance of a clique whose unfitness to rule and unworthiness of popular favour has been self-demonstrated.

Irish News editorial advising that nationalists should fully participate in Northern Ireland elections despite gerrymandering by the northern government, instead of ignoring and boycotting elections and institutions as had happened previously.