Over the last three decades particularly, history has weighed heavily and influenced the actions of both communities and truthfully clearly played a hand in the conflict. Now that the vote has been so decisively cast (71% yes, 29% no in Northern Ireland and 94% yes in the Republic) the future rests firmly on the shoulders of the people and their political leaders to make the Agreement a success.
I anticipated in my article above that the votes would be counted by constituency, as in the Welsh Assembly Referendum, but in the event they were collected and transported to the King’s Hall in Belfast’s Lisburn Road for counting. One dissident Ulster Unionist, MP Jeffrey Donaldson, claims that the majority in his constituency voted no. It may be that in the initial counting, when checking the votes cast against the register, party scrutineers may have assessed how the yes/nos stacked up in their own areas. It may be that they were actually counted for convenience in each constituency and then added to the central pile for final counting. But whatever way it was done the experienced scrutineers will be hard at work speculating on the Assembly possibilities for their respective parties.
In view of the peculiar arithmetic being practised by the DUP who claim they obtained 56% of the Unionist vote for the No camp they will, if they continue this method, be laughed at for their faulty grasp of simple statistics.
The balance of power between the parties, in respect of seats obtained, is crucial to the successful operation of the Agreement. The SDLP leader has turned down the idea of an electoral pact with Sinn Féin, so both parties will be fighting to maximise their share of the Nationalist vote, although this may not be fully reflected in the number of seats they each obtain.
There may be an unstated, underlying understanding between the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, thus ensuring that second preference votes will be denied to Ian Paisley’s No candidates, for example.
Too obvious a snuggling up, of course, could reduce their support in strongly Nationalist areas. Instead of both ends being played against the middle the reverse may in practice occur.
It is problematical also which way the Loyalist parties’ supporters will cast their preference votes, which will diminish support for the DUP because of their adamant No position.
The representation from the Alliance Party, Womens’ Coalition and other groups will certainly depend on their collecting second and third preference votes.
If the scheme is to work and have a substantial measure of success the Yes camp, across the communities, must cut substantially into the No vote, particularly of the Unionist communities. It may be that the soft Nos, as they have been called, should turn their support to cross community groups including the Alliance Party, to place their second and third preference votes.
The Assembly operation will be difficult, especially in regard to decommissioning / demilitarisation and the reform of the Police service. Much depends on the size of the representation of Sinn Féin and their opportunity to participate in the Executive, for if they are severely marginalised, as some Unionists want, then the dissident splinter Republican groups could establish a more firmly rooted existence than at present.
The Agreement represents not a turning over of a new leaf, not just a new chapter, not just the end game, but a new book, to be written by new thinkers, to create a new history with the rising generation in mind, the objective a mutually tolerant society co‒operating for the good of all. To do this the abominable No men, whose attitude at the start of of the blood‒letting years precipitated the turmoil, must be defeated so that the first steps back to sanity can be taken. The new dates to be celebrated in the future, in which the whole communities can participate, are April 10th 1998, May 22nd 1998 – so let’s get the treble up and make it a hat trick on June 25th 1998!
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran.
Samuel H. Boyd