Posted By: April 04, 2014

Denis Bradley. Irish News( Belfast). Friday, April 4, 2014
MITCHEL Mclaughlin says that the irresponsible behaviour of mainstream unionism
could lead to a political crisis. He recently wrote that there is a concerted effort
by unionist parties to reverse the progress made since 1998 and to break binding
agreements that were part of the peace process. The response from unionism is that
such talk about political crisis is a smokescreen to obscure the pressure that Sinn
Fein is under from dissident republicans. This argument, which has broken out
recently, is against a backdrop where political momentum has almost completely
stalled and the only dynamic is towards the May elections. It is inevitable that
there is an amount of tension about parades up in north Belfast. Sinn Fein is
certain to feel the breath of the dissidents on their neck around such an emotive
issue and the presence of a 'loyal order' camp in Twaddell Avenue keeps that tension
high. But apart from north Belfast, there is no evidence that the Shinners are
feeling any pressure from the dissidents. If unionists genuinely want to understand
why Sinn Fein are issuing warnings, they need to look way beyond the dissidents.
Somewhere in the lexicon of political repartee there is a reference to guns making
you powerful and butter making you fat. Sinn Fein's nightmare is the perception of
becoming fat. The journey from guns to butter is never easy but republicans did it
reasonably well.

The success of that journey was on the back of a motto that butter would be best
delivered by those who once proposed that politics in itself was not enough.
Cynicism aside, it was important for the Sinn Fein strategy to be seen to make
politics work and to improve the lives of their core support. That support is not
confined to working-class areas of high unemployment and appalling deprivation
indices. The growing nationalist middle-class whose tentacles are spreading
geographically, socially and economically and whose ambitions have grown with the
size of their wallets also form part of the Sinn Fein vote.

Both parts of the core are showing their dissatisfaction.

The lot of the working-class has worsened rather than improved and the stauncher the
area the higher up the unemployment list it comes. The unemployed can understand a
recession better than most but that doesn't lessen the disappointment of
generational poverty after they were assured that it would be better when Sinn Fein
got their hands on power. The middle-class are disappointed with the whole executive
but they would probably give Sinn Fein a mark that bordered on failure. They fully
understand the limited power that the executive has but they are far from impressed
with what Sinn Fein has delivered.

While an unreformed DUP occupy one of the corners in the boxing ring, Sinn Fein are
in no danger of being removed as their opponent in the other corner. Our history and
our divided loyalties have tied us into an incessant battle of numbers - the
majority living in fear of becoming the minority and the minority patiently looking
forward to the day when they become the majority. The two governments signed up to
being the oil in the joints to keep some movement possible and to unlock anything
that seized up completely. Unfortunately, we have inherited two governments[
Conservatives and Fine Gael] who had little skin[involvement/investment] in our
peace process,  and who seem to have forgotten or never understood their role. As a
consequence, we are politically paralysed.

But no matter how disappointed or disillusioned people might be, the percentage of
the vote that Sinn Fein gets from nationalist/republican voters will remain roughly
the same and in a tight contest, where a bloodied nose could be delivered to the
DUP, that percentage is likely to be augmented by floating voters. it is not the
percentage of the vote that scares Sinn Fein, it is the number who are thinking of
not voting at all. If the disillusionment and cynicism grows and more and more
people stop going to the polling station then Sinn Fein are left with the exact
problem that unionism has been living with for many years.

The number of non-voting unionists increases election after election. When people
give up on voting in a number of elections it become very difficult, if not
impossible, to get them back into the political fold. If that trend were to become
as severe among nationalist/republican voters then Sinn Fein's strategy becomes even
more difficult. They have plenty to be nervous about.