Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Hope created by tragic murder of Lyra McKee lost amid the dreary realities of our tribal mentality

Election was a missed opportunity to send Sinn Fein and DUP a message that things must change

Tragic journalist Lyra McKee
Tragic journalist Lyra McKee
PM Theresa May
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

Despite the remarkable surge in the vote for the Alliance Party - not just in Belfast, but their migration west of the Bann - the same old political duopoly gloomily emerged triumphant out of the mists of the election results last weekend.

The re-emergence of the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone reassured the respective leaderships of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party that they still held in thrall their respective, captive electorates; the sectarian juggernauts, that, through their continued stand-off, have sucked the life out of politics over the past two-and-a-half years, leading to, among other things, unprecedented hospital waiting lists, stalled public works, the continued delay in the establishment of legacy institutions and deprivation of the victims of institutional abuse of their rightful compensation.

But, sure, it doesn't matter a toss about those pressing issues, so long as people are reassured that the other crowd won't take over and that our own community's rights will be strongly protected.

Just a week after the inspirational homily by Fr Martin Magill at the murdered journalist Lyra McKee's funeral, the electorate have missed the opportunity to send a powerful message to Sinn Fein and the DUP that things cannot continue as they were.

The hope surrounding the tragedy of Lyra's murder sadly seems to have evaporated into the grim realities of sectarian triumphalism.

If enough people had voted last Thursday to dent the arrogance of these two parties, then the talks about restoring power-sharing might be very different in outcome.

We might then have had a new beginning and the creation of a real partnership and an Executive based on goodwill and mutual respect.

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As things stand post-election, with their respective mandates firmly intact, why would either the DUP or Sinn Fein change their entrenched positions to reach a consensus on bringing back the Assembly?

In fact, the opposite is to be expected, as they face into another election for the European Parliament in three weeks' time.

Any sign of flexibility, or conciliation, might be interpreted as weakness and fail to drum up support for their respective candidates.

Last week's local government election simply reaffirmed the old certainties of a two-bloc system of tribal politics.

The DUP finished with eight seats fewer than the last time, in 2014, but nonetheless finished comfortably with 122 seats overall. They even increased their representation in Belfast City Hall by two seats.

Their rivals in the Ulster Unionist Party were practically wiped out electorally and reduced to two seats in a City Hall once monopolised by the party.

Sinn Fein, winning 23% of the total vote, polled strongly and maintained their position. They returned the same number of councillors as they did in 2014, that is 105.

Their only real disappointment was in Derry, where they lost five seats, thus leaving the SDLP as the biggest single party on the council and a clear threat to Sinn Fein's current slender hold on the Foyle parliamentary seat.

If our elections confirmed old certainties, the English elections confirmed the current uncertainty and volatility of British politics.

A massive 1,330 Conservative councillors lost their seats in last week's polls. But, to add to the uncertainty of the situation, the Labour Party failed to gain from the Conservatives' decline in support and, in fact, lost 84 seats themselves. In addition, Eurosceptics Ukip lost 145 seats.

The winners were the Europhile Liberal Democrats and the Greens, together winning almost 900 extra seats. A surge in independents, totalling 661 seats, accounted for the rest of the gains from a badly mauled Conservative Party.

This points to huge dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party in government, largely because of its failure to reach a successful deal on Brexit with the European Union.

It highlights the fears that the British public have about the negative impact of leaving the European Union. This is further evidence of a change of heart by the British electorate over leaving Europe.

The results have caused deep panic within Conservative ranks in parliament and beyond and a frantic call by former leader Iain Duncan Smith for Theresa May to step down immediately.

Whatever these results mean (and there are different interpretations), it is still likely that the Labour Party will not rush to make a deal with the Prime Minister before the European elections in the hope that the Tories are slaughtered.

The Labour Party believes that it will be able to get a more favourable deal in the aftermath of a successful European election campaign.

In all the circumstances, why would Jeremy Corbyn throw Theresa May a lifeline now, when he can further weaken and perhaps irretrievably split her divided party in another nationwide poll and still negotiate a bespoke Labour deal afterwards?

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