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New MPs still face many age-old problems

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 09/05/2015

UUP’s Danny Kinahan celebrates taking the South Antrim seat from Willie McCrea last night
UUP’s Danny Kinahan celebrates taking the South Antrim seat from Willie McCrea last night

The results from the general election are arguably the most remarkable in a generation, and Northern Ireland, too, has had its share of surprises and significant developments.

One of these was the resurgence of the Ulster Unionist Party with the notable victories of Danny Kinahan in South Antrim and Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

These UUP results are not only good for unionism, which now has 10 out of 18 seats (11 if Lady Hermon is regarded as an “unofficial” unionist).

This tally shows that the unionist vote is more fluid than some people had supposed.

There was the clear switch from DUP to UUP in South Antrim, but also evidence of voting across party lines to support SDLP candidates in Foyle and South Down.

This will go some way to dispelling the stereotype image of unionism as dour, unbending and unimaginative.

It is ironic, however, that despite the strong unionist showing their leverage at Westminster will not be as strong as they might have hoped, due to the excellent polling of the Conservatives, who will form a majority Government.

Without doubt the UUP will look to the Assembly elections next year to cement its gains.

The party will also draw comfort from the fact that Sinn Fein has not reached its previous high-water mark, losing one seat with a turnout that dropped slightly by 1%.

Constitutional nationalism remains secure with the three seats for the SDLP, and while the party received criticism for its sometimes sedate style, it retains an important element of core non-violent nationalism which Sinn Fein cannot penetrate, and perhaps never will.

The results of the election are one thing, but the manner of campaigning by certain parties and individuals is something else. This was characterised by the virulence of some acceptance speeches from the DUP and some of the dirty tricks  in the latter stages, largely — it appears — from Sinn Fein.

It is particularly reprehensible and indefensible that the adopted children of David Simpson and his wife received some abusive messages on social media, allegedly from some self-styled UUP supporters. The thoughtful reply from one of the children speaks for itself: “It was with sadness that I read certain posts on our Facebook about our adoption.

“Comments that should not have been made so flippantly. We love our parents as much as they love us... we will not let online bullies get us down.”

The generally unseemly attitudes and behaviour evidenced during the election campaign and afterwards are particularly sad because there were many young voters who had no experience of our troubled past.

It would be a major step forward if those who do remember the toxicity in that period of our history would move on and resolve to do what they can to lead the population on all sides towards better days.

Sectarianism is an age-old problem which many people have been trying to combat, but with limited success. We face many problems, from the flag issue and dealing with the past, to the important day-to-day issues of the economy, health, education and welfare reform.

Sadly, in what was one of the more unusual election campaigns in Northern Ireland, none of these issues was tackled properly.

Doubtless, however, these challenges will arise soon again, just before our newly-minted and more veteran Westminster MPs set off on their holidays.

Despite their achievements, challenges and woes, our local Westminster candidates did not face the same travails as their national counterparts, three of whom fell on their swords, while other high-profile figures failed to get elected.

This newspaper would like to wish the incoming MPs well as they face up to their onerous responsibilities. They will have much work to do.

Belfast Telegraph

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