Sinn Féin will need to coalesce with large party

The Sinn Féin party established in 1905 split before the Irish Civil War and again in its aftermath. The seeds of another split were sown when leader Éamon de Valera came to believe that abstentionism was not a workable tactic. In March 1926, de Valera and his followers split from Sinn Féin over the question of abstentionism and announced that they would set up a new republican party, Fianna Fáil. This gave rise to the two traditionally dominant parties of southern Irish politics. Fianna Fáil won the1932 election and formed the government of the Free State. They managed to construct a functioning democracy out of a bitter civil war despite the playing of civil war politics by some TDs in the Dáil. These shenanigans continued for many years after. By 1969 the north was aflame and partition was once more in the spotlight in a contentious way. The Irish electorate showed little interest in supporting Sinn Féin in the south. There was, however a growing support for them in the north of Ireland. A new Sinn Féin party came into existence in 1970 from the streets of Derry and Belfast and was originally mostly active in the north of Ireland. A policy of abandoning abstentionism was again at the forefront of the split. At the 1997 Irish general election, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was elected to the Dáil. In doing so, he became the first person under the Sinn Féin banner to be elected to the Dáil since 1957, and the first since 1922 to take their seat. From the 1970s Sinn Féin became more involved politically. In 1994, the IRA announced a ceasefire, paving the way for Sinn Féin’s involvement in the north of Ireland peace process talks which eventually led to the Belfast Agreement and participation in the power-sharing north of Ireland Executive. Since then, Sinn Féin has become the largest party in the north of Ireland and has grown in popularity in the Republic. They have yet to form part of a coalition government in the Republic but were part of the government of the north of Ireland. Traditionally there has been two main parties in the Dáil for the best part of a century. Not ideologically very different, certainly not in the way that the current Sinn Féin is from the two. Recently the Electoral Commission released the re-drawing of Dáil constituency boundaries, creating 14 new TDs as a result. The redraw points to only one likely government next time round. A majority in the next Dáil will be 87 seats so that’s the minimum needed for a government. Even if Sinn Féin were to double their seats, which would be very optimistic, they would be 15 votes short of a majority.

Pretty unlikely they’ll be able to make that up with smaller parties, given Sinn Féin is going to take votes away from them. That means they’d need to coalesce with a large party. So, the only combination that makes sense, based purely on the likely maths, is a Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil government. It is basically a product of an electoral system in which compromise and coalitions are fundamental.


Templeogue, Dublin 6

Politics is a numbers game

Articles from columnists such as Alex Kane (September 1) persist with the myth that the fortunes of the UUP and SDLP at Stormont are somehow out of their hands, or that they are beyond redemption. Far from it.

Politics is a numbers game, but unfortunately for them both the UUP and SDLP are innumerate, and they seem unable to game the NI Assembly in a way that political parties throughout the EU do on a regular basis in their own local elections.

The outcome of that election resulted in designated unionists forming the majority followed by designated nationalists and then designated others.

Under the terms of the St Andrews Agreement this led to Sinn Féin nominating the First Minister even though they were not from the largest designation, and the deputy First Minister would then be nominated by the largest party from the largest designation, which is the DUP. However, it was entirely within the power of the UUP and SDLP to instead designate as ‘other’ to make that the largest designation, which would have allowed the largest party from that designation – Alliance – to nominate the deputy First Minister.

In return for doing so the UUP and SDLP could – like political parties throughout Europe do in the aftermath of their elections – negotiate for political favours in return for doing so, but they both chose not to do so.

They could have told Alliance that this rainbow coalition should pro rata share the role of deputy First Minister with, for example, the UUP leader taking the role for the first 18 months followed by the SDLP leader and then Alliance for the last 24 months.

Why did they choose not to do so?

And this trio of political parties now have three years until the next Assembly elections to discuss whether they might want to have a post-election negotiation to thrash out possible permutations before these parties designate.

There are of course pitfalls to this scenario. The UUP would be labelled Lundies. The SDLP might be labelled Castle Catholics for abandoning nationalism.

But at least they could have the satisfaction of being in government instead of mewling ineffectively from the side-lines whilst the electorate suffer needlessly.


Belfast BT9

Young carers being robbed of their childhood

There are more than 17,500 children and young adults helping to care for sick or disabled loved ones in Northern Ireland – including hundreds under the age of 10. Too many of these young people are being robbed of a normal childhood by the pressures of caring and poverty.

New research by the Carer Poverty Commission shows young carers are missing out on chances to socialise with friends, go on school trips or take breaks from caring because of household financial strain. It says a lot about our priorities as a society that, while so many of our young people spend each day buckling under the strain of caring and poverty, our governing institutions sit in a deep freeze, doing nothing to help them. The parents of young carers say the lack of help they get from Stormont is ‘disgusting’. It is hard to disagree. We need our MLAs back in the Assembly now doing what they can to support young carers.


Carers NI, Belfast BT1

Treatment services

In his column (August 31), Denis Bradley stated: “The last statutory residential facility for drug and alcohol treatment, Shaftesbury Square Hospital in Belfast, closed 13 years ago and was never replaced.”

This is not correct. There are currently three regional statutory specialist inpatient treatment services in Northern Ireland. These medically managed units are located in Holywell Hospital, Downshire Hospital and Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital and provide both stabilisation and detoxification as required.

More information on substance use services in Northern Ireland can be read here: https://drugsandalcoholni.info/self-help-resources/.


Director of Communications

Department of Health