Mgr Michael Buckley explains why the Fermanagh election will be a charade.
WHEN IS an election to the Parliament of Westminster not an election?
When it is called to choose a sitting member for the constituency of Fermanagh, South Tyrone. The by-election on Thursday August 20 is for the vacancy caused by the death of the late Bobby Sands MP who died on hunger strike shortly after his election.
He defeated the sole Unionist candidate, Harry West a former member of the Official Unionist Party. The choice for the electorate was simple and straightforward, not in the sense that the voters knew whom they wanted as much as whom they did not want. The Protestants, with their innate fear of nationalists, could not vote for Sands and the Catholics, despite the pressures of being seen to vote for the 1RA, just would not vote for West. It was Sands the "gunman" against West the uncompromising "Protestant" and the "gunman" did not so much win as that "sectarian" lost.
There was no viable moderate in the field and no moderation to be found in the candidates themselves. It was a straightforward Catholic Protestant fight and the Catholics won because they were thicker on the ground. In the final analysis the result made a mockery of the arbitrary manner ,in which, the demarcation line of partition was originally drawn and maintained.
Conor Cruise O'Brien at the consequence posed the question later in The Observer as to whether the border demarcation should be redrawn in the light of the political result thus bringing Fermanagh and South Tyrone into the Republic of Ireland. If partition is to end only by majority consent he argued, then the particular area under consideration was definitely not part of the United Kingdom. But the important question remains as to what physical area inside a political entity can be chosen at which majority rule demands the secession or independence; a question which Northern Ireland never really answered to any one's real satisfaction except the privileged ascendancy in an artifically contrived enclave.
When the demarcation line for Northern Ireland was first drawn up the constituency of Fermanagh South Tyrone way seen as a border-line case in more ways than one. It was necessary to include it if Northern Ireland was to succeed as a political and economic entity.
Without the foresight of recent disturbances. it has now become the Achilles Heel of Protestant rule and political credibility. They dare not abandon it and the Catholics will not allow them to hold political sway over it. This, in brief, is a political and quasi constitutional background to the election on Thursday.
The political situation in the constituency is polarised along religious lines and vice versa. The only Catholic candidate — if there is such a person in this fierce political arena is Owen Carron of the Provisional Sinn Fein. He is Sands former political agent.
The sole Protestant candidate is Ken Maginnis who, until his Unionist nomination for the constituency. was a Major in the Protestant Ulster Defence Regiment. The contest on Thursday is more a military battle than a political contest and the voters know the value of the stakes involved.
If Carron is involved with the Republicans, albeit in a political way. then Maginnis is strong on 'security' with all its overtones for the Catholic majority. If Maginnis is elected then t it would be equivalent to Anthony Wedgewood Henn winning at Cheltenham for his brand of socialism. Miracles happen but with the H-block issue very much in the mind of the voters, Maginnis will probably lose by a' thousand or more votes.
When the result comes through on Friday morning the media will express the usual surprise and draw their own conclusion to suit their preconceived notions about what was the issue. One wonders how they go about their research if indeed they ever consider it necessary. What surprised me about Sands's election was that our media seemed so deeply shocked.
It had all the external trappings of a genuine misreading of the situation which makes one question their capacity to understand what is really going on in this particular neck of the woods. Westminster was thrown into confusion and rushed legislation through Parliament which would prevent a similar situation arising. • On Thursday the 'Agent' for the qara military and the 'Major' test each others strengths in a bone crushing contest. Is the situation any different from the SandsWest conflict and if not why does the charade continue'? The issues are deeper than the constituency itself and it is time they were acknowledged as such by everyone including Westminster, Peace, in its ultimate analysis, demands justice. The media will ask why did not the largely Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party put up a candidate to oppose Carron? Its leader John Hume is a pragmatist and in his own words they had "no real choice".
He is right, because his party would have suffered a massive defeat comparable to the recent Conservative demolition at Warrington, If Maginnis was in consequence elected then the SDLP would be accused of a sell-out and would join the political scrap heap in which Gerry Fitt now finds himself. Seamus Mallon the deputy leader of the SDLP put his finger on the sore spot at their executive meeting when he said: "We are faced with an almost impossible choice as a result of the emotional wave thrown up by the deaths of the H-block hunger strikers."
The SDLP do not want to commit political suicide and so step aside from this conflict.
It always puzzles me why no one in the media ask why there is no Protestant opposition to Maginnis? Mr Paisley's real political enemy is the Ulster Unionist Party so why did he not put forward his candidate? He is an astute politician who has little relish for defeat and so finds himself in the same position as the SDLP.
He agreed to stand aside only when Major Maginnis was, nominated. thus claiming that the all important issue of "security" was preserved SO there was no need for him to put forward a candidate. No one really believes him but such is the name of the game called "politics".
It is all rather confusing to the British Public but perhaps necessary for our understanding of the issues involved, No Catholic or Protestant Clergy man will tell his people how to vote on Thursday. If he did, and it was contrary to their traditional approach, then his appeal would fall on deaf ears.
If the election runs true to form then there will be few spoiled votes in a high poll. The only victim will be democracy and political freedom.
If Maginnis wins, then the Catholics will not have a voice. If Carron wins then no one will have a voice because he has said that he will not take his seat in Westminster, out of contempt for the Parliament he and his supporters do not recognise.
Fermanagh South Tyrone will then have no representative at Westminster and that is why Thursday's election to the Parliament of Westminster is not an election at all. It is in every sence a show of tribal strength.