Editorial 13.12.03

Now that the dust has settled on the election results, the full enormity of the changed political situation is becoming clear.

However, what isn’t obvious is what difference the increased mandate for Sinn Féin and the dominance of the DUP in the unionist community will make to ordinary voters.

In regard to the DUP, vigilance is the price of fairplay for nationalists. For senior unionist politicians who opposed one-man-one-vote for Catholics, the allocation of housing according to need and the Good Friday Agreement are unlikely to mend their ways now they hold the whiphand in unionist politics.

On the nationalist side of the fence, the ramifications of the surge in support for Sinn Féin and the eclipsing of the SDLP will be felt for some time to come. For the first time since Partition, a clear majority of Northern nationalists have plumped for a republican party committed to a united Ireland.

In anyone’s language, that’s an incredible seachange.

Approximately one in four of the population here now give their support to Sinn Féin. An astonishing change of circumstances for a party which just ten years ago wasn’t even allowed to explain its policies on TV!

And while Sinn Féin has pledged to use that increased mandate wisely, it will no doubt be keen to ensure that its voters’ views are heard. That can only happen satisfactorily when the Executive is back up and running but in the meantime, there should be some tough talking with bodies which claim to represent us.

No quango, and this goes especially for the Board of the Housing Executive which continues to ban Sinn Féin from membership, should be allowed to have less than 25 per cent republican representation. That would be a jolt to the system for the great and the good, but it’s also democracy in action.

Likewise, Sinn Féin should now enjoy the advantage of majority representation on bodies set up under the last Executive when the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister was always allowed to appoint an extra representative on to new bodies (giving the SDLP and UUP a clear majority). As we wait for the Executive debacle to be sorted, it’s essential that ordinary nationalists see changes they endorsed with the franchise taking place. Certainly, the Police Board with its preponderence of SDLP nominees and SDLP supporters is suffering from a post-election credibility crisis.

Now that Sinn Féin is the majority nationalist party, it’s time it set its sight on transforming some of those institutions which represent the politics of the past. If that can’t be done, they should set up new and vibrant institutions which reflect the changed political circumstances we find our selves in.


The great misfortune of Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley, the three Irishmen facing trumped up terrorism charges in Colombia, is that they weren’t born British.

For if they had have been Blighty-based and found themselves accused of child murder in Massachusetts or drug-smuggling in Singapore, they would have found a sympathetic press and political constituency demanding their return home.

As citizens of Ireland, however, they are saddled with a media which for 25 years wouldn’t let a republican voice sully the airwaves and a government — not to mention the opposition — which thinks its silence on the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four should be replicated when it comes to the miscarriage of justice which faces the Colombia Three.

As the trio face their third Christmas in prison and with no credible case having been made against them, they should be returned to Ireland immediately.

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