Letters to the Editor

Politicians are unable to think, much less act, for the greater good

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, with Lord Carson's statue in the foreground, is blanketed in fog (Peter Morrison/PA)

In 2021 Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol aside, it seems opinion polls were the major influence on six county politics, with the centenary a damp squib. Worse still, if we have learned anything from Covid it is that many of our politicians, even in the face of a pandemic, are unable to think, much less act for the greater good without looking for a party-political wedge issue. Looking backwards, unionists still couldn’t manage an apology, however qualified. Looking forwards, unionism’s big idea seems to be that people will vote with their pockets on unification, overlooking the inconvenient fact that Brexit proved people could and did vote to be poorer.

Politicians use poll results for a variety of reasons and even with Covid we have been treated over the past six months to non-stop headline chasing manoeuvres. Clearly both Sinn Féin and DUP will try to squeeze the moderate parties by attracting supporters for the pointless, if symbolic, title of first minister with the implicit bonus of sending a two-fingered message to the other side. Such positioning may well work with some voters but really there are bigger issues for us all. The real question is not how well the big two perform, not just how the electorate responds to their record in office, but what it wants for the future. For non-unionists, Sinn Féin seem to have peaked in 2017, when they secured 56 per cent of nationalist voters, meaning even at the height of the RHI scandal and crocodile remarks, four out of 10 nationalist voters were still unpersuaded.

Five years later, polling suggests Sinn Féin’s vote in the north, at least, is not growing, hence the crowing about a sectarian headcount. As to unionists, nearly 55 years after O’Neill’s “Ulster is at the crossroads” speech, how will they vote? Do our fellow citizens believe the DUP or TUV represent them? If unionists can’t look and vote beyond those two offerings, one wonders, if not now, will we ever get a reasonable answer to O’Neill’s plaintive question: “What kind of Ulster do you want?”

Political pundits often refer to moderate and non-voting garden centre unionists. Increasingly I wonder if they exist; equally, there just could be a very comfortable group, content with the status quo, who under their breath, share the same unpleasant views articulated by the DUP and TUV. Now that is a depressing thought – time will tell.

Belfast BT9


Misleading figures

The chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride, said the vaccine had a 95 per cent efficacy but that was a misleading figure. That sounds like it protects you 95 per cent of the time, but that is not what that number really means. That 95 per cent refers to the relative risk

reduction, but it does not tell you how much your overall risk is reduced by vaccination. For that we need absolute risk reduction.

In the Pfizer trial, in the vaccinated group eight got Covid out of 18,198. In the unvaccinated placebo group 162 out of the 18,198 got Covid. Even without the vaccine the risk of getting Covid was extremely low at 0.88 per cent which the vaccine then reduced to 0.04. So the net benefit or absolute risk reduction that you are being offered by the Pfizer vaccine is 0.84 per cent. That 95 per cent number refers to the relative difference between 0.88 and 0.04 and that is what they call 95 per cent relative risk reduction. Relative risk reduction is well known to be a misleading

number which is why the American FDA recommends using absolute risk reduction, which begs the question how many people would have chosen to take the Pfizer vaccine had they known that the vaccine offers less than one per cent benefit?

Draperstown, Co Derry


Managing a smooth transition to Irish unity

The Brexit fiasco and the denial of various rights in the north, which are taken for granted across Western Europe, has again exposed the fact that a divided island does not serve the needs of our people in 2021.

Partition is a huge obstacle to building a modern, open and forward-looking society with a dynamic economy.

Irish unity is back at the centre of political discussion. A referendum on a united Ireland is a key provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

We are entering a defining period in Irish political history.

There is a live and growing conversation underway about Irish unity and the need to start planning for constitutional change and what a new Ireland would look like.

It is vital that the Irish government starts living up to its responsibilities in leading this discussion. It needs now to start planning for future constitutional change.

In my view, the most important first step that it needs to take is to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss what a united Ireland might look like and how best we can manage a smooth transition.

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15

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Letters to the Editor