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Stalemate for the Good Friday Agreement
Northern Ireland Assembly elections
Paul Mallon • Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
December 2003/January 2004

Elections held on November 26th 2003 to the Northern Ireland Assembly have failed to break the deadlock in the Good Friday Agreement. The elections were designed to break the deadlock following the suspension of the Stormont Assembly in October 2002. The prospect of Ian Paisley, whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won most seats, as the prospective First Minster with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as his number two, ensures the executive cannot be restored. As the media focuses on a ‘normal’ North of Ireland and its electoral process the realities of the nationalist working class is deadly different. Loyalist attacks have continued against Catholics even as talks about talks get underway to break the deadlock. One thing is clear: neither a review of the Good Friday Agreement nor a return to the Stormont Assembly will give any respite to the nationalists on the receiving end of the Loyalist hate mobs.

Enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement is the unionist veto. This means for the Agreement to work it requires the consent of the majority of Unionists. Prior to the election the majority of Unionist members of the Assembly had supported the Agreement. This is no longer the case now that Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become the leading Unionist party in the assembly with 25.7% of first preference votes with 30 assembly seats. The DUP increased its vote by 7.5%, but mainly at the expense of other anti-Agreement unionist parties. The pro-Agreement Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) vote actually increased by 1.4% to 22.7%, but it lost one seat, ending up with 27 seats.

Sinn Fein was able convince enough middle class nationalists to vote for them as they eclipsed the SDLP as the main nationalist party of the north for the first time ever. Sinn Fein’s vote increased by 5.9% while the SDLP vote fell by 5%. This gave Sinn Fein 24 seats to the SDLP’s 18. The prospect of any return to devolved power in the next period almost impossible given the DUP’s present position refusing of refusing to share power with Republicans.

The British Government to announced these elections following the third act of IRA arms decommissioning on October 21st. The Republican movement were once again attempting to reassure Unionism of it commitment to the peace process. Launching Sinn Fein’s election manifesto in Belfast on November 15th Martin McGuinness revealed the extent to which Sinn Fein is dependent on the peace process by calling Republicans to use their preference votes for other pro Agreement parties even if they were Unionists! This was an attempt – vain in the end – to bolster the Ulster Unionist Party and help it defeat the Democratic Unionist party.

In the election build up the Loyalist attacks on nationalists continued. They remain largely unreported by a media and political establishment eager to normalise the Six Counties.

On Sunday 16 November, 37-year-old Catholic man, Paul Denvir, lost an eye after being viciously attacked by four loyalists armed with hammers and machetes as he left the Boundary bar on the Shore Road on the outskirts of North Belfast. The sectarian murder attempt happened at around 11 pm, when four Loyalists jumped from a car that pulled up alongside the victim. One of the gang then hit him on the back of the head with a claw hammer. Apart from the loss of his eye, Paul’s injures included a broken jaw and cheekbones, smashed teeth, lacerated chin and serious head injuries, “It’s important to let other people know that there are still those out there prepared to do this, just because I’m a Catholic,” Paul said he recovered.

Then, one week before the election on Thursday 20 November 21-year-old Catholic James McMahon was severely bludgeoned in a sectarian attack by a Loyalist death squad dying of his injuries the following day.

A review of the Good Friday Agreement in the next period will attempt to wrest further concessions from Sinn Fein to appease Unionists and the British government. However the realities of continued Loyalist attacks on nationalist make further decommissioning by the IRA untenable at this stage.

Already further elections are being mooted as the only way to create the conditions for Stormont rule to return. But elections cannot change the character of Northern Ireland as a sectarian state. Widespread discrimination against Catholics remains. Loyalism continues its war on the nationalist working class. Ian Paisley’s election as the prospective First Minster is a symbol of how little has changed in the North in the past 35 years since the civil rights movement. Right now Sinn Fein is being exposed as little more than a radical version of the failed and discredited SDLP, politically and physically unable to defend the nationalist working class and tied to the status quo of British imperialist rule in Ireland.

From Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Number 176 December 2003 / January 2004,
Published with permission.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

13 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association


8 December 2003


Electing to Disagree
Brendan O'Neill


The GFA Revisited

Gerry Ruddy


The Problem With the Kurds
Pedram Moallemian


Even Northern Ireland Has Global Responsibilties
Anthony McIntyre


Rafah Today: The Tent
Mohammed Omer




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