Tag Archives: Democratic Unionist Party

U.S. press on the rise and fall of the Paisley dynasty


Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Orange Order, has said the poor performance of Northern Ireland’s unionist parties in the July 4 general election “could have been a lot worse for unionists, it wasn’t too bad. But there is a lot of work to do to promote the union.” As Twelfth parades stepped off across the province, he told the Belfast Telegraph there is “massive growth in Orange activity across the country.” This claim is suspect, according to nationalist Irish News columnist Brian Feeney. He writes the Orangeism’s “ageing membership is a fraction of what it was fifty years ago. Many marchers can’t manage the distance of their parades. Instead of a manifestation of the power of unionism ‘the Twalf’ is Exhibit A of what has happened to unionism.” … Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Hilary Benn attended a Twelfth parade in County Fermanagh one day after meeting Irish Tánaiste (deputy PM) Micheal Martin in County Down. “I see my job as being a friend to all, beholden to none, but an honest broker in Northern Ireland,” said Benn of the newly empowered U.K. Labour party.


Ian Paisley Jr.’s defeat in the United Kingdom elections marks the first time in 54 years that the family will not represent Northern Ireland’s North Antrim constituency at Westminster. The Rev. Paisley Sr. entered Parliament in June 1970, then 15 months later founded the militant Democratic Unionist Party. Now, the DUP’s loss of two other seats in the July 4 election means it is no longer the largest or dominant party among 18 representatives from Northern Ireland.

Paisley’s defeat has been called “a political earthquake,” one that reveals division among those who seek to maintain Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain. It comes as Northern Irish Protestants begin their annual July 12 Battle of the Boyne commemorations. It will worth watching to see if unionism’s troubles manifest at this year’s marches and bonfires. (See update above.)

The election result sent me to U.S. newspaper databases[1]Newspapers.com and ProQuest. to review coverage of Paisley Senior’s rise to political power early in the Troubles.

Paisley Sr. in 1970.

The firebrand preacher was named in the U.S. press as early as 1951, when Religion News Service reported on the St. Patrick’s Day formation of the Free Presbyterian Church.[2]“Presbyterian Church Inaugurated In Ulster”, RNS via Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa., March 31, 1951. More widespread coverage of Paisley began in 1962, when the Associated Press reported that Italian police had detained him and two other Protestant preachers from Northern Ireland for distributing pamphlets in St. Peter’s Square to protest a meeting of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council.

Paisley did not surface in the New York Times until 1966, when he was mentioned in 14 stories, mostly about his incarceration for unlawful assembly and related rioting in Belfast. In covering that year’s Twelfth marches, the Times American-born correspondent Dana Adams Schmidt reported that Orangemen were “divided over a form of religious and political extremism known as Paisleyism. … (He) has gained an avid following with emotional tirades against the Catholic Church, against the ecumenical movement and against the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Capt. Terence O’Neill.”[3]”A Divided Northern Ireland Celebrates The Battle Of The Boyne”, New York Times, July 13, 1966. “Dana Adams Schmidt, Reporter Based In Europe and Mideast, 78”, New York Times, … Continue reading

Paisley had already developed a relationship with the namesake founder of the Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The university bestowed Paisley with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, and Jones visited the Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast in October 1966. The American preacher told the Irish congregation that the United States and the United Kingdom had in common “the same biased press.”[4]“Jones Charges British, U.S. Press Biased”, Associated Press via The State, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 28, 1966. Paisley’s namesake first son was born in December 1966.

Dynasty begins

By the time he was elected to Parliament four years later, Paisley Père was a fixture in U.S. press coverage of Northern Ireland. He was described as “Northern Ireland’s answer to Alabama’s George Wallace. … Both men possess formidable oratorical talent, and both speak—with varying degrees of subtlety and fervor—to the deep-seated fears of many people.”[5]“Paisley Alters 20th Century”, Marvin Kupfer of Newsweek Features via Press and Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y., June 30, 1970.

Paisley joined the House of Commons months after Catholic civil rights crusader Bernadette Devlin won a Mid Ulster by-election to become the youngest woman elected to Westminster. The 21-year-old claimed the seat in London, unlike traditional Irish republican abstentionists.

“These are the two symbols of Northern Ireland today … the Socialist martyr, hope of despairing Catholics … (and the) ordained apostle of right-wing reaction, arch-sectarian, defender of Protestants who feel their world and its values crumbling away,” wrote one correspondent.[6]”The Rebel In Armagh Jail, The Hater In The Pulpit”, Anthony Carthew of the Daily Mail, London, via the New York Times, Aug. 9, 1970. Another said she was “a rabblerouser, Castro in a miniskirt” while he was “a rank demagogue and an embryo Fascist.”[7]”Bernadette Devlin, Rev. Ian Paisley Symbols of N. Ireland Polarization”, Edwin McDowell in the Arizona Republic, Sept. 14, 1970. McDowell later worked for the Wall Street Journal and the … Continue reading Noted U.S. conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. worried that “Paisleyism is more important than Paisley, and would most likely survive him. … If Paisleyism triumphs, Northern Ireland will disintegrate.”[8]Buckley’s July 1970 column was widely published in U.S. papers.

Paisley Jr. in 2020.

Northern Ireland did disintegrate into bloodshed, which lasted until the late 1990s. As it turned out, Paisley had a longer and more successful political career than Devlin. But he eventually moderated his position enough to lead the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. (Alabama’s Wallace also moderated his politics later in his career.)

Dynasty ends

Paisley Sr. retired from politics in 2011, and he died three years later. Paisley Jr. replaced his father at Westminster in 2010, and was re-elected three times. He was defeated by 450 votes this month by Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, which split from the DUP in 2007 as a more hardline party. Since his loss, Paisley refused to join the DUP’s call for unionist unity, and he has dodged the press.

The end of the Paisley dynasty rated only two paragraphs in the New York Times‘ online roundup of the U.K. election. It was the paper’s first mention of the family since the father’s death a decade ago. Most U.S. media outlets have ignored the fall of the house of Paisley.


1 Newspapers.com and ProQuest.
2 “Presbyterian Church Inaugurated In Ulster”, RNS via Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa., March 31, 1951.
3 ”A Divided Northern Ireland Celebrates The Battle Of The Boyne”, New York Times, July 13, 1966. “Dana Adams Schmidt, Reporter Based In Europe and Mideast, 78”, New York Times, Aug. 26, 1994.
4 “Jones Charges British, U.S. Press Biased”, Associated Press via The State, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 28, 1966.
5 “Paisley Alters 20th Century”, Marvin Kupfer of Newsweek Features via Press and Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y., June 30, 1970.
6 ”The Rebel In Armagh Jail, The Hater In The Pulpit”, Anthony Carthew of the Daily Mail, London, via the New York Times, Aug. 9, 1970.
7 ”Bernadette Devlin, Rev. Ian Paisley Symbols of N. Ireland Polarization”, Edwin McDowell in the Arizona Republic, Sept. 14, 1970. McDowell later worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
8 Buckley’s July 1970 column was widely published in U.S. papers.

New British PM makes connections with Ireland


New British Prime Minister Keir Starmer has spoken by phone with Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris. They are scheduled to meet in London on July 17. Starmer also spoken with Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly. He is expected to visit the province within days. … Hilary Benn has been named Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Funding, and either repeal or modification of the Legacy Act, are top issues for the new Labour government in the North.

Leaders from London, Dublin, and Belfast met 100 years ago …

Leaders Ramsay MacDonald of Britain, William Cosgrave of the Irish Free State, and Sir James Craig of Northern Ireland discussed the Irish boundary commission and related matters four years after partition. Ransey was the Labour Party’s first prime minister. Image from the Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier, July 13, 1924. 


Nationalist Sinn Féin has emerged as the largest U.K. parliamentary party in Northern Ireland by holding its seven seats from the 2019 election while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost three seats in a split among unionists. Sinn Féin now has the most seats in local council offices, the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, and at Westminster, though the party does not take its seats in the London parliament.

The unionist debacle included the “political earthquake” of the DUP loosing the North Antrim seat held by the late firebrand Ian Paisley, then his namesake son, since 1970. The seat tipped to Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister. The Alliance Party captured the Lagan Valley seat held by Sir Jeffery Donaldson, the former DUP leader now criminal charged with sexual offences. Sorcha Eastwood, 38, is the first non-unionist and first woman to win the seat.

Political observers suggest the massive majority won by Labour at Westminster will foster a “reset” between London and Dublin, with implications not only for British-Irish relations but also between Northern Ireland and the Republic. More in the next update.


Labour has won a landslide victory in the U.K. general election, according to BBC exit polling. Party leader Keir Starmer will becomes the new prime minister. … Results from Northern Ireland are likely to remain outstanding until early July 5, U.S. Eastern time.


Voting is underway in the U.K. until 10 p.m. local time, or 5 p.m. U.S. Eastern time. The U.K. does not permit exit polling to be reported while the voting is ongoing. (Original post below the photo.)

Former U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, standing at right center, addresses the House of Commons on May 15. He was ousted by the Labour landslide. ©House of Commons


Voters in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom head to the polls Thursday, July 4. Many observers believe the election will boot the Conservatives from power after 14 years, five prime ministers, and one Brexit.

Northern Ireland, bright yellow, and the rest of the U.K.

Only 18 of the 650 seats at Westminster represent constituencies in the six partitioned counties of Ireland. Sinn Féin nationalists don’t bother making the trip to London. But the election results will matter as the North continues to find its post-Brexit footing as the only part of the U.K. with a European Union land border–the Republic of Ireland. The make up of the Northern Ireland delegation, and the full Parliament and new prime minister, will also impact ongoing speculation about holding a referendum on whether to re-unify Ireland.

Of course, both of these matters will be influenced by the still unscheduled national election in the Republic, which must take place by spring. And, too a lesser degree, the U.S. election in November.

In the 2019 U.K. election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won the most seats in Northern Ireland with eight. The resignation of party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has reduced that to seven. Sinn Féin also has seven seats. Michelle O’Neill, the party vice-president, is first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the power-sharing local government established by the Good Friday Agreement. At Westminster, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) hold two seats and the non-aligned Alliance Party one.

Sinn Féin, which took a beating in last month’s local and E.U. elections in the Republic, may not make gains in the North, but still could emerge with the most seats. On the unionist side, the vote could be split between the DUP, the Ulster Unionists, and Traditional Unionist Voice. This may help the Alliance.

The BBC offers this roundup of key races in the North.

Catching up with modern Ireland

Here’s another of my occasional posts with headlines and curated content about contemporary Ireland and Northern Ireland. Enjoy:

Ireland’s Central Statistics Office released the country’s latest census figures, a snapshot of the Republic from April 3, 2022. Highlights include:

  • The population exceeded 5 million (5,149,139) for the first time in 171 years. This is an 8 percent increase from 2016. All counties showed at least 5 percent growth.
  • The proportion of the population who identified Roman Catholic fell to 69 percent from 79 percent in 2016. The “No Religion” category increased to 736,210 people from 451,941.
  • Almost 80 percent of Irish households have a broadband internet connection, up from 71 percent in 2016 and 64 percent in 2011. Nearly a third of workers indicated they did their jobs from home for at least part of the week.

The CSO’s Summary Report is the first of nine 2022 census releases. More detailed reports on topics such as housing, homelessness, and religion will follow throughout the year.

CSO graphic.

Other stories:

  • The Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party, which supports reunification of Ireland, followed last year’s historic Northern Ireland Assembly victory by defeating their pro-Britain unionist rivals in May council elections by a wide margin. Sinn Féin for the first time is the largest party at the local and provincial levels. The Assembly remains in limbo, however, due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s refusal to participate in the power-sharing government.
  • Ireland’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent in May, a record that surpasses the “Celtic Tiger” period of two decades ago. Unemployment in the North fell to 2.4 percent, slightly below pre-pandemic levels and just 0.1 percentage point shy of the record low.
  • Almost all sectors of the Irish economy will fail to meet 2030 carbon reduction targets, The Irish Times reported; while warming weather and rising seas continue to demonstrate the impact of climate change. A proposal to slaughter 200,000 cows to reduce methane emissions generated blowback from the agricultural sector, as expected, and from outside actors ranging from PETA to Elon Musk.
  • The Republic’s Department of Rural and Community Development has launched a 10-year “Our Living Islands” initiative to repopulate nearly two dozen islands from Donegal to Cork.
  • The New York Times detailed Ireland’s vanishing fishing fleet, following a similar story from Euronews.com in January.
  • Former President Donald Trump, now under state and federal indictments, earned nearly $25 million from his golf property in Doonbeg, County Clare, during his four years in office, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington has reported. The revenue was part of a $160 million haul from overseas businesses with interests in U.S. foreign policy. Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence each stayed at Doonbeg at taxpayers expense while in office.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

Edwin Potts resigned as Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader after three weeks on the job. He was pushed out by party insiders angered by the U.K. government’s pledged to grant Sinn Féin a key concession on Irish language laws. Jeffrey Donaldson, who narrowly lost to Potts in May, succeeded him after no other contenders for leader stepped forward. The most contentious issue for the DUP is the Brexit-related “Northern Ireland protocol,” which governs trade between other parts of Britain and the European Union.

See “Northern Ireland Is Coming to an End” by Irish journalist Susan McKay for an historic and contemporary overview.

Also in June:

  • Irish President Michael D. Higgins, Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall, and U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) made separate remarks at the June 2-5 American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS). My story for George Washington University’s History News Network.
  • Mulhall lashed out at New York Times columnist Paul Krugman‘s use of the phrase “leprechaun economics” to describe how transfer pricing can distort national accounts, such as GDP figures. “This is not the first time your columnist has used the word ‘leprechaun’ when referring to Ireland, and I see it as my duty to point out that this represents an unacceptable slur,” the ambassador wrote in a letter to the Times.
  • Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Leo Varadkar said he believes a united Ireland could happen in his lifetime. The views of unionists must be “acknowledged and respected”, he said, but “no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future.”
  • U.S. President Joe Biden nominated Massachusetts state representative Clair Cronin as ambassador to Ireland. She must be confirmed by the Senate. Meanwhile, no decision has yet been made on the appointment of a special envoy to Northern Ireland, a position last held by Mick Mulvaney, who left the position after his boss, former U.S. President Donald Trump, incited an attack against the U.S. Congress.
  • The housing crisis in Ireland continues to draw headlines. Prices have surged by more than 13 percent in the past 12 months as supply remains tight.
  • American tourists will be welcomed back to Ireland beginning July 19. Visitors will have to show proof of vaccination. The country will also welcome unvaccinated tourists, but they must arrive with proof of a negative test and self-quarantine before taking a second test.
  • See our previous monthly roundups and annual Best of the Blog.

River Nore, Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny.                                                                         Fáilte Ireland

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Ireland is slowly emerging from COVID-19 lockdown. Outdoor dining for pubs and restaurants resumes June 7; indoor service is set to begin in early July. Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development agency, launched a €4 million “Keep Discovering” marketing campaign to drive domestic holidays and help to reboot the industry. Foreign visitors still face restrictions, though many are expected to begin easing in July. … Nearly 7,100 people have died in the Republic (4,941) and Northern Ireland (2,153).

The Press Council of Ireland & Office of the Press Ombudsman declared in its annual report: “The Irish media’s response to the challenge of reporting on the first pandemic for over a hundred years was overwhelmingly professional with the provision of objective information, analysis and debate. This considerable achievement was made against a backdrop of significant declining resources and the need for remote working.”

More from May:

  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) selected Edwin Poots as its new leader. On the one hand, he is seen in the mold of the late Ian Paisley; on the other, some observers say he could be surprisingly open minded. Potts is opposed to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade barriers (the Irish Sea “protocol”) and conservative on social issues. Potts pledged to unite the bickering strands of unionism to fight the Brexit deal and keep the province in the United Kingdom. … Doug Beattie, a British army veteran, was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in an uncontested race.
  • Britain announced plans for legislation to give greater legal protection to former soldiers who served during during The Troubles. sparking angry opposition from victims and lawmakers. The announcement came the day a judge-led inquiry in Northern Ireland found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of up to 10 innocent people in Belfast in 1971.
  • Irish and British government ministers are to meet for a formal summit on Northern Ireland in June in the first British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in two years.
  • Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities. An amendment that sought to impose sanctions on Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador failed.
  • Ireland’s Health Service Executive and Department of Health experienced cyber attacks.
  • A pair of cranes are nesting on a revitalized peat bog in the Irish Midlands. It is hoped they could be the first of the species to breed on the island in some 300 years. …. Ireland has ceased industrial peat harvesting and begun rehabilitating thousands of hectares of boglands by rewetting the drained sites and recreating crane habitat.
  • Scientists at NUI Galway have found an alarming rise in Noble False Widow spiders and confirm their bites can require hospitalization.
  • Pedalmania: 32 cycle routes in Ireland, one in every county.
  • A decade has passed since U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ireland. In a May 23, 2011 address in Dublin, he offered “hearty greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans who proudly trace their heritage to this small island.” Full remarks.
  • Image: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry, from Tourism Ireland.

Political problems mount on both sides of Irish border

Political turmoil is growing on the island of Ireland. Each new development complicates the other. Here’s a quick summary:

  • The minority government coalition in the Republic of Ireland is on the verge of collapse. The opposition Fianna Fail party is threatening to break the three-year deal it made with the Fine Gael party just 18 months ago. A dispute over a police whistleblower case is the surface reason, but don’t be fooled: this arranged marriage was rocky from the start. If  Fianna Fail walks, Irish voters may have to trudge to the polls before Christmas.
  • As Reuters reports, this crisis comes three weeks ahead of a European Union summit in which the Irish government has an effective veto on whether Britain’s talks on leaving the bloc (Brexit) meet the Republic’s concerns about the future of the border with Northern Ireland. A weakened Irish government means less power at the bargaining table.
  • In Northern Ireland, the power-sharing Assembly has been suspended since January, when the nationalist Sinn Fein withdrew from government over concerns about the role of Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster in a renewable energy scheme. The New York Times does a good job of piecing together the ensuing events. “This is a more profound crisis than we’ve had at other times in the last 20 years,” said a member of the Alliance Party, a smaller centrist group that does not identify as either nationalist or unionist.
  • Complicating the border issues, Foster has written to the leaders of all 27 E.U. countries, telling them that Northern Ireland will not tolerate any difference in status between itself and the rest of the United Kingdom, after Brexit. She wants Northern Ireland to remain identified with the U.K. rather than any special arrangement with the Republic, as Sinn Fein wants. This reduces the chance of compromise on restoring the Assembly.
  • Remember, earlier this year Foster also entered into coalition government with British PM Theresa May.  As The Guardian reports, Foster now accuses the Irish government of exploiting Brexit to attempt to unify Ireland.
  • The ongoing Brexit negotiations, and what happens to the government in the Republic, will continue to impact Northern Ireland. Given the current difficulties, there may be calls to renegotiate the governing framework of the Good Friday Agreement, which reaches its 20th anniversary in April. Or political control may simply revert to London, a huge step backward. Next year also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and start of the Anglo-Irish War, which resulted in the island’s partition in 1921. Foster is right, in that talk of a referendum to reunify the island is only likely to increase.

Map of Ireland from the 1920s shows the partition of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland.

U.S. media plays sectarian card in N.I. election coverage

News of Sinn Féin‘s big gains in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections is reaching American media outlets, and with it the usual sectarian shorthand that has virtually disappeared from Irish and British coverage.

While Jewish-Muslim tension remains fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Catholic-Protestant animosity has a shrinking role in today’s Northern Ireland political narrative. But the storyline remains catnip to many U.S. news outlets.

Here’s the top of The New York Times‘ Assembly election coverage, which appeared at the bottom of page 10 of the 5 March print issue:

Sinn Féin, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest number of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

This is an improvement over the 16 January Times’ story reporting the pending election:

Voters in Northern Ireland will go to the polls on March 2 in a snap election that was forced by the main Catholic party, Sinn Féin, after the collapse of a regional government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power.

The newer story introduces the concept of a nationalist party — instead of simply Catholic –in the first sentence. In the January story, the word nationalist isn’t used at all. The fourth paragraph does explain: “Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually reunite with Ireland.” The word unionism is introduced in the same graph. Both stories were written by Sinead O’Shea.

The Washington Post published an Associated Press story on its website, though none has appeared in print as of 5 March. Here’s the lede:

Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape. The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Féin.

“Unionist” doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph, in the formal name Democratic Unionist Party, then a graph later as lowercase “unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.”

The descriptions could benefit from modifiers such as “predominantly Catholic nationalists” or “historically Protestant unionists,” leaving room for those who do not fit the easy stereotype. We are a long way from the days of “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” Northern Ireland is increasingly diverse in its religious (or non-religious), racial and political make up. Winners of 13 of 90 seats in this election are from parties or independents that eschew traditional Catholic or Protestant affiliation. Their 14.4 percent share is up from 12.9 percent in the May 2016 election.

Think it’s impossible for U.S. media to avoid this sectarian shorthand? NPR’s coverage, by Colin Dwyer, shows how the basic political divide can be explained without using religious identifiers.

When the dust finally settled Saturday on Northern Ireland’s snap assembly election, it became clear a new political reality now awaits voters there. After an exceedingly strong showing by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s government is split all but down the middle between Irish nationalists and their pro-British counterparts.

The story does not use the words Catholic or Protestant.  Only an online photo caption describes “the Catholic Falls Road” in Belfast. The word nationalist appears three times in this story, lowercase unionist four times, plus an additional reference to the Democratic Unionists.

The opening of The Irish Timeselection wrap-up is representative of how Northern politics is reported on the island of Ireland, and in Britain. Note the use of the word republican instead of nationalist:

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

Peace walls, right, gated roads , center, and boarded windows are reminders of the lingering Catholic-Protestant divide in Belfast. Mark Holan photo, July 2016.

I’m not saying sectarian labels are never used in Irish and British media coverage, but they are becoming as sparse as people in Northern Ireland church pews. I wonder if these newsrooms have made conscious decisions to keep religious affiliation out of their political coverage.

To be sure, the “peace walls” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder that sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland. And the U.S. media coverage does include the important contemporary context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland renewable energy scandal.

Alan Bairner wrote a chapter about international and local media coverage of the Troubles in the 1996 book, Northern Ireland Politics, edited by Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago, and two years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland could have no grounds for complaint about the levels of interest shown by the international media, although they were frequently uneasy about the quality of the analysis which resulted from that media interest. … There is little evidence, for example, that British or, indeed, international coverage of the Troubles had a significant impact on the views of people in Northern Ireland itself. Most Northern Irish people formulate political views on the basis of numerous factors and their reaction to media output, regardless of its aim, is more or less predetermined.

And the local press coverage?

It would be preposterous to suggest that the owners and editors of Northern Ireland’s local newspapers are responsible for the divisions in their society. It is undeniable, however, that their papers, through the choice of stories which are published and even the use of language to tell these stories, give voice to the rival perspectives of the two communities and, as a consequence, give added strength to these perspectives in the eyes of those who hold them. Therefore, local papers as well as the [Protestant] News Letter and the [Catholic] Irish News have helped to reproduce sectarian attitudes and in so doing they have become complicit in the maintenance of the politics of division.

(I added the paragraph beginning “Such descriptions … ” and made other minor revisions from the original post. MH)

Northern Ireland voters return to the polls 2 March

Only 10 months have passed since Northern Ireland voters selected assembly representatives. Now, fresh polling takes place 2 March, prompted by the January resignation of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the former deputy first minister. His move, in protest of a troubled renewable energy scheme overseen by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster, collapsed the power-sharing government. McGuinness also is in poor health and will not seek re-election.

The Irish Times says:

Power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin is challenged by a collapse of trust and respect. Since other parties are unlikely to get enough seats, a prolonged period of direct rule [from London] is probable. That would come just as the British government invokes Brexit, creating huge uncertainty about the border [with the Republic] and hence the peace process itself. This issue has not had the attention or debate it deserves in the campaign.

The election outcome is made more unpredictable due to a previously scheduled reduction of the assembly to 90 seats, or five members for each of the 18 constituencies, from the previous allotment of 108 seats, or six representatives per district. This could upset the final balance of power.

Votes will be counted 3 March, and full results should be known by 4 March. Here are landing pages for major media coverage of the election:

And here’s a full 16 February debate among the major party leaders:

Election drama builds in Ireland, north and south

This is an important week in Irish politics on both sides of the border.

In the Republic, negotiators from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue their intensive talks on forming a new government. A key leadership vote is tentatively set for 14 April, which is 48 days since the 26 February election.

Ireland’s record for going without a government is 48 days, when a November 1992 election failed to produce a coalition pact until January 1993, according to the Associated Press. Now, if the two major parities and incoming small party and independent members fail to reach a deal soon, calls for a second election are likely to increase. That hasn’t happened since 1982.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

In Ulster, campaigning is heating up for the 5 May Northern Ireland Assembly election, with the first debate among leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin, Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Alliance Party set for 13 April.

This is the fifth such election since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 created the historic power-sharing legislature. Voters will cast ballots for 108 members from 18 constituencies in the six counties.

Notably, the generation born in 1998 and a few years earlier will be able to vote for the first time in this election. That could either soften or harden recent electoral trends. In a preview, the London School of Economics and Political Science observes:

In 1998, the (moderate) SDLP was the party with most votes in the Assembly, while the (moderate) UUP was the party with most seats. In the 2003 election, the (stronger pro-British) DUP took the most votes and seats, and (stronger Irish nationalist) Sinn Féin moved from being the fourth largest party, to the second largest party. In 2007 this trend consolidated, when the sum of votes for the DUP and SF reached 56%. By 2011, the DUP and SF were the undisputed largest parties in the system, leaving the SDLP, the UUP, and the Alliance significantly behind.

The northern vote not only comes on the heels of the still-unresolved election outcome in the Republic, but also ahead of the 23 June referendum on whether the U.K. (including Northern Ireland) remains in the E.U. All of which puts the lie to notions that the U.S. is the only place having interesting elections this year.

Ulster Unionists gain seats in U.K. elections

The Ulster Unionist Party picked up two seats — one from the Democratic Unionist Party, the other from Sinn Féin — among Northern Ireland races in the 7 May U.K elections. The wins return UUP representation to Westminster after a five year absence.

The DUP remains the North’s largest party, retaining eight of the 18 seats. It made up for the loss to the UUP by taking a seat from Alliance, a nonsectarian party that advocates cooperation between nationalist and unionists.

Republican Sinn Féin has four seats, the nationalist Social Democrat and Labor Party has three seats, and party independent Sylvia Hermon retained her North Down seat.

“The election in Northern Ireland began with nationalists holding eight seats and unionists 10 seats,” The Irish Times reported. “It ended with unionists gaining an extra seat from Sinn Féin leaving the overall result, 11 unionists against 7 nationalists.”

Here are full results and analysis from the BBC.