It’s a long-held political axiom among nationalists in the north that the demographic trend would eventually put Sinn Féin in power in Northern Ireland. Because Catholics tended to have larger families they would eventually outvote unionists, or so it was commonly believed.
This, of course, contributed to the sectarian violence and terrorism of unionist militias, from the time of the Peep o’Day boys to the UVF. Sporadic pogrom violence such as the 1969 Bombay Street burning in Belfast were a terrorist reactionary put down of the nationalist population. That seems pretty clear cut. However, despite all this, it was believed that the demographic tide of large Catholic families would eventually secure political power for the nationalist community.
Is it that simple? Maybe not. Demographic trends change, as do the ideological loyalties of demographic groups.
Children playing on the streets during the troubles
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
To illustrate how these alignments can radically change, consider the fact that collusion between loyalist terrorists and the powers that be, was subversively ignored by the political and media elite of the Republic throughout the 70s and 80s. Anyone who remembers the news cycle at the time remembers how it was solemnly declared that all blame was with SF/IRA.
Now, the same institutions have turned on the unionists because a greater master (EU and Brexit politics) has commanded their loyalty. The reality hasn¹t changed much, but they have decided to train their sights on the loyalists for now. So all of a sudden they are no longer the good guys.
That’s a whole moral failing to be examined another day; but let¹s face it, it¹s an inconsistency which feels more like treachery than ignorance.
The question for now though is: is the prediction of nationalist demographic determination being fulfilled or likely to be fulfilled?
Looking at the demographic shift only, for which we have census data up to 2011, the Sinn Féin predictions for the 80s and 90s would seem plausible. However, election results of the past few cycles didn¹t show gains for the party.
In the 2019 Westminster elections Sinn Féin’s vote went down 6.5%, though they kept their 7 seats. In the 2019 local government elections, the party’s vote slipped a little but they maintained their seats. In the last Northern Assembly elections, they gained a little in voting but also lost a seat.
By the way, their main rivals, the DUP, are also suffering similar losses.
The New Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin are confronting two issues here: a steadily declining birth rate amongst their traditional supporters (though it is still one of the highest in Europe at 1.89) and a changing array of political outlooks and loyalties. Achieving advantage from these two phenomenons is a juggling act which is by no means predetermined. Conservative politicians might do well to understand this.
Mural of Bobby Sands: Photo Credit: Åse Elin Langeland used under CC licence
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Ironically, despite the catholic thing being the source of Sinn Féin¹s growth they are now anything but serving a traditional or conservative Catholic electorate. They are running on the fumes of that nationalist society that was bound together by the reality of being under siege; and to keep control of it they have gone full Marxist and woke. The woke hustle is the next level of grievance politics. It’s what left-wing political organisations turn to when they actually get power. After all it’s hard to talk of rebelling against the system when you are in charge of said system.
As history has showed, Sinn Féin could get political currency from representing the victim and the just cause. This has become a fungible lesson, and is now a modus operandi that is rolled out repetitively as a tactic whether there is a human rights cause at play or not.
The party’s lack of consistent morals seems pure opportunism. How many times have they held two self-contradicting policies in the respective electoral theatres of the North and the Republic? Observers might remember Sinn Féin in the south over the past decade objecting strenuously to austerity, while Sinn Féin in Stormont implemented it. They were the same in regard to abortion at various points in time. This is grievance politics duplicity 101.
The grievance identity politics looks a lot like a mafia when you examine it on a structural level. How it works is that all contact with a particular minority (in effect a voting block) is through a select few “community organisers”, who extort resources from the outside yet never seems to improve the community they pretend to represent.
The Black Lives Matter movement are a pretty good example of this. Their leaders buy massive houses in white upmarket neighbourhoods, while the black neighbourhoods they claim to represent burn after the rioting incited by racial tensions. No grifting there apparently.
As we noted on this platform previously, the communities that Sinn Féin represent continue to be amongst the most deprived in the entirety of the UK.
My colleague Matt Treacy reported: “A study of all constituencies published in December 2019 underlined that once more. It found that 3 of the 10 most deprived of the 650 Westminster constituencies were in the north of Ireland, and these were the predominantly Catholic and predominantly Sinn Féin voting West Belfast, North Belfast and Foyle.”
A 2018 UN report found that West Belfast had the second highest rate of child poverty across the whole of Britain, including Scotland, England, and Wales.
How is it that these communities are still doing so badly, after 20 years of peace and investment? It seems that the only upward social mobility in these neighbourhoods isn’t through employment or initiative, it’s as a ‘community organiser’. It’s pretty plain who you have to be in with to get one of these jobs. Toe the line and become a “Made Man” so to speak! There is not a Marxist organisation (or country) on earth that doesn’t operate this way.
The Rise and Stall of the Secular Constituency
The latest census data, which is now ten years old, shows that the protestant population is ageing and that the majority of the youth declare their religion Catholic. So who are these young people voting for?
Longitudinal population studies in NI have shown that religiosity correlates for the consistently slightly higher fertility rates in the Catholic/nationalist population. But, they also show that within the Catholic (and Protestant) community there is a sharper distinction between the religious and the weakly-religious/non-affiliated. In these groups, (the non-religious within Nationalist and Unionist communities) there is a convergence of fertility.
There are a number of interesting long term trends suggested in this. One of which is a growing religious/traditional percentage of the nationalist population who would likely reject the SF liberal vision.
Whereas that suggests that the new socialist and liberal SF might find it difficult to appeal to a religious portion of their traditional constituency, what about this new third-level educated group who correlate mostly with the non-religious and low fertility cohort.
The Unionist and Nationalist vote hasn’t budged much but the Alliance has made head roads, seemingly picking up the majority of the dissatisfied of both sides.
Mural by Danni Simpson on the wall of White’s Tavern in Belfast, White’s Tavern, Belfast. Photo Credit: Rossographer used under CC licence
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I was in Belfast a few months before the lockdowns and discussed the political scene with a native of that town. She was a mid-thirties graduate of Queens, had a chunky mortgage, married with no kids on the way, and had a busy social life. In her view the protestant community was being let down by their leaders. They were underdeveloped, didn¹t attend college, had no prospects.
It appears that from the study Matt Treacy cited above, that my friend was missing half the story. She viewed the Alliance party positively. Sinn Féin, who had her parents vote, were not getting hers.
Now this anecdote is definitely not a scientific study but it suggests something. It seems Sinn Féín are juggling voter needs. There is the new generation of college educated young people who are attracted to the sort of liberalism of the Alliance. Sinn Féin think they can attract this demographic with an unrestrained support of the liberal agenda – abortion on demand etc.
Then there is the working class Nationalist from some very deprived areas who can be cajoled, flattered, or threatened with the prospect of a return to the awful sectarian past. I’m sure there are many Sinn Féin ‘community workers’ who are using the present riots for all their tribal worth.
Is the Future Socialist?
The declining birth rate is affecting the nationalist vote. Not just in their numbers but also in a change in political ideology.
Having fully embraced abortion and other anti family leftism, the demographic political pre-determinism is arguably deflating faster than SF (or the SDLP) can reap the benefits, so where will they make their gains going forward?
Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill celebrated at Dublin Castle when the right to life of the pre-born child was taken from the constitution in a referendum. They held a poster pronouncing “the North is Next” in relation to abortion legalisation there
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
There is no real reason that the unaffiliated immigrant voter, for instance, should become part of the intersectional voting block that leftists are trying to affiliate. When a Syrian Muslim, or a Nigerian Christian, for instance, looks at the social policy of Sinn Féin they might find that the party, whatever about its open doors policies, represents much that is clashes with their deeply-held beliefs. The 2011 Census showed that 2% of the population of Northern Ireland were born outside the EU and a further 2% were born in Eastern Europe. 11% overall were not born in the region.
To keep these conservative immigrants from finding their more natural allies in the conservative right, Leftists have to keep the rhetoric of systemic racism constantly in the public discourse. As long as they keep the moral panic of racism (and every other “ism”) alive by constantly manufacturing a narrative about it, they create a wedge of suspicion and distrust between conservative nationalist and unionist communities, and conservative immigrant communities who might end up natural allies.
Sinn Féin and fellow lefties may assume that they will benefit from immigration because they think that their identity politics will attract these low income unaffiliated people. But what has happened elsewhere?
In the U.S., this has been playing out longer than in Ireland and it was assumed by the American left that immigration would see a demographic voting swing that would favour them eventually. That’s why they push so hard for immigration.
However it is transpiring that many immigrants are far more open to conservative politics and once they see what the leftists are pushing they don’t like it that much. In the past US election we learned that Latinos don’t like the racist policies of the radical left and shifted massively to the populist Trump (from 18% to 33%). Strangely enough, it turned out identity politics did not appeal to their values, and they didn’t like the idea of falling wages from mass immigration. Also, they didn’t like being told to get in line behind more sacred victim groups.
If Northern Ireland receives a wave of African Christian’s and Muslims from the east, why would these immigrants vote Sinn Féin?
In the U.S., for instance, the trend of states flipping blue is starting to go the other way now. The Latino voters don’t like this racialist stuff and if the appeal is made to them they are opting for conservative politics. Florida is well on the way to being a solid rejection of leftist politics, and states like Nevada and Arizona are trending towards red. It’s down to a new populism, which looks much more like the politics of union labour leader Cesar Chavez, and also attracts the low income first generation immigrant.
The Sinn Féin Reinvention
So what exactly is Sinn Féin nowadays?
The party can no longer live off their reputation as the defiant rebels fighting a hard fight. That was a nationalist trope that got badly soiled in its transformation to international socialism.
With Martin Mc Guinness, SF had someone whose image represented a steadfast tradition; and in the end he earned the respect even of his bitterest adversaries. Gerry Adams is a sullied version of that, and even he is a more convincing brand than the new version of a Sinn Féin leader. Structurally, the new party is more like a Russian soviet, run by committees who impose their ideologues into party positions. Perhaps like the Stalinists, they are hoping this process will produce a personality to build a political cult around. Looking for a Fidel Castro or a Joseph Stalin, they get a Mary Lou.
Reviewing SF’s policies and the way they interact with the communities they represent, their political philosophy, it seems, is to promote a learned helplessness. What you will learn is that you have insoluble problems that only the state can fix, and that they as intermediaries with the state will manage and fix your life for you.
Having surrendered the authority of their own lives to the SF machine, people are offered a sort of Nihilist’s degeneracy in its stead – Don’t have children, have fun instead.
However you don’t need Sinn Féin for that, the Alliance fill that role of rejection of tradition for nihilistic fulfilment. They have the BOBO (Bourgeois Bohemian) grift for the indoctrinated college graduate.
So where does that leave Sinn Féin? A sort of bolshevik/mafia mix flogging bread and circus while waiting for the conditions for an Octoberist revolution. And all the while, the demographics which used to promise a bright future, don’t seem to favour them anymore. What you reap, you sow.