The DUP has been quick to dampen claims the repeal vote will have an impact on the North. Eamonn McCann disputes this, arguing that Foster and co are out of touch even with their own voting base when it comes to the right to choose.
Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and other leaders of the DUP have been all over the media proclaiming that the abortion vote in the South will have no effect on the North.
They are wrong. The referendum has already had a profound effect on the North. They are wrong, too, in imagining that they speak for a Northern majority, or even for a majority of Protestants, or even for a majority of DUP voters.
The latest Life and Times Survey by researchers at Ulster University shows that a substantial majority of Northerners want liberal reform of abortion law and that there’s no significant difference between the attitudes of Protestants and Catholics. Insofar as there is any difference, it’s that Protestants are more likely to be liberal on the issue than Catholics. (The level of support for reform is, as might be expected, higher again among those who define themselves as neither Protestant nor Catholic, Nationalist nor Unionist.)
Of DUP supporters specifically, four out of five support the right to abortion in situations of fatal foetal abnormality, three out of four in cases of rape, more than 50 percent when the woman’s life or health is at stake.
Things Can Change
So how come it’s so widely assumed that the DUP would hold its vote if another election were called, that its supporters would lumber to the polls and scratch an x for the DUP in the belief that, while Arlene Foster’s party may be worse than useless in many respects, it’s still the best bet for “saving the union.”
The unshakeable belief of media commentators is that the link with Britain is all that matters in the North. This is contradicted by the achievements of Labour candidates in the ‘50s and ‘60s and farther back and the more recent successes of People Before Profit.
Still, election results down through the years confirm the traditional dominance of Orange-Green politics. Then again, no election in the last hundred years would have suggested that two thirds of people in the South would vote for legal abortion.
The parallel between the jurisdictions isn’t exact. Unionist (and Nationalist) parties in the North campaign on the basis of communal solidarity, rather than on social or economic issues. The DUP, Sinn Féin etc proclaim that to give your vote to anybody who isn’t appropriately Orange or Green is to desert your own community.
This is, obviously, a much stronger pitch in the North than in the South. History has bequeathed the division.
But is this based on immutable law? Will communal identity always, inevitably, be the sole or main determinant of political allegiance? Are all appeals to class interest futile?
An All-Ireland Campaign
Consider the health service. What do we hear most often and insistently when the health service is discussed on, for example, Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show? Or on RTE’s main ‘phone-in programme, Joe Duffy? Long waiting lists, shortages of specialist staff, beds in the corridors, frail people lying in pain, deprived of dignity. This has become the main marker of the depth of the crisis in both jurisdictions.
A fight for proper funding of health would look and feel the same, North and South. As with the right to choose, success in one part of the island would give a huge boost to campaigners in the other part. The struggle would have an all-Ireland character, not because anybody wished it so, but because that’s the way it would develop—If active campaigners and plausible political leaderships pointed and led in that direction.
Criminal greed in the boardrooms, corruption in the police, politicians in the pockets of shady “developers,” a widening divide between the rich and the rest of us, workers treated like dirt and told to like it or lump it. A common experience touching hundreds of thousands Irish people. There’s no difference.
But there is a huge reluctance in mainstream politics, including in mainstream trades union politics, to operate an all-Ireland perspective
Any suggestion of simultaneous demonstrations across the border against job cuts and wage freezes in the public service tends to be doused in cold water before it can be discussed. One reason for this is a fear that all-Ireland action would alienate Protestant members of unions. This misses the point, that only unity in action can bridge this divide.
Unity is Key
It’s not only the objective identity of interest which can underpin united action. It’s also the powerful effect of launching into action together. Nobody who joined in the Repeal campaign will have been unaffected by the experience. Nothing brings us together more than surging through the streets together in pursuit of a common cause.
This is People Before Profit’s alternative to armed struggle or playing footsie with Leo Varadkar in hopes of getting into government and using it as a springboard for advancing towards political unity.
We believe that the experience of the Repeal referendum and the eruption of women against oppression North and South supports our view.