OPINION: Tragedy & Drama as 18 Elected MPs Take Their Poll Positions

Sunday Mirror (London, England), June 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

OPINION: Tragedy & Drama as 18 Elected MPs Take Their Poll Positions


Byline: ARTHUR AUGHEY Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Ulster

ON Thursday night and into Friday morning, viewers yawned their way through the television coverage of the General Election in Great Britain.

The results were so predictable that BBC and ITV could have shown a repeat of the 1997 poll and viewers would have been none the wiser.

How very different it all was in Northern Ireland. The results from the 18 constituencies were the stuff of great political drama. Here was passion, nail- biting action, comedy as well as tragedy. It was a bit like Tales of the Unexpected.

Commentators thought that David Trimble's resignation threat would concentrate unionist minds on the negotiations to come after the election.

It was expected that this would favour the UUP rather than the DUP. It didn't. Commentators expected that a high turn-out would be good news for Trimble. It wasn't. No one expected that Roy Beggs in East Antrim would come close to losing the safest of seats to Sammy Wilson.

It was expected that the DUP would take North Belfast from the UUP. Few expected them to take Strangford and East Londonderry as well. No one was expecting that Trimble would come so close to humiliation in Upper Bann.

It was thought that support for Sinn Fein would grow. No one expected them to out-poll the SDLP. Brid Rodger's campaign team thought they had done enough to secure West Tyrone.

Few expected that Sinn Fein would take that seat and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The big question now is this: What does this disordering of expectations mean for the future of the Agreement?

Being realistic about the Agreement means not expecting a resolution of conflict but a transformation of that conflict.

It means transforming our condition from one of violence over the ends of politics - whether Northern Ireland is British or Irish - to a consensus about the means of politics - that it should be democratic, parliamentary and lawful.

If the Troubles were the result of the pot of sectarian passions boiling over into death and destruction, then the Agreement is a policy of simmering.

The objective is to secure a progressive cooling of the temperature in the expectation that a people less hot and bothered will be a people more willing to live and let live.

It was expected that this would come about through a consolidation of the middle ground. In other words, it was expected that the UUP and the SDLP would provide the foundations for the future.

Their success, and especially the symbolism of a first and deputy first minister working closely together, would encourage a moderating dynamic in electoral politics.

The model implies a balanced institutional structure in Northern Ireland resting on a very solid, central core. …

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