JUGGERNAUT, tsunami, tectonic plates – last week’s local elections had the commentators groping for new words to describe the success of Sinn Féin.  

The election was a thundering verdict on the DUP’s insistence that although last May it had dozens of candidates elected to Stormont, those same successful candidates didn’t actually have to go to Stormont, but simply spend the past year collecting their plump salaries.

Why? Officially because the DUP claims the Windsor Framework agreement still puts NEI on the window-ledge of the union. No doubt that is a verminous worry for unionism; but the party knows and so does every dog and cat in the street that a major road-block for them is that they’ll have to serve as deputy First Minister to Michelle O’Neill’s First Minister.

When Paisley was First Minister to Martin McGuinness’s deputy FirEvem st Minister, he liked to refer to "my deputy", on one occasion telling visitors that if they couldn’t eat all of what was placed before them to pass them along and "my deputy will gobble them up."  Yes, Virginia, it does make the Deputy First Minister sound like Paisley’s favourite dog and the First Minister like an ignorant buffoon.  But it’s to Martin McGuinness’s credit he remained unfazed by such crass talk. Paisley’s uncouth talk  and that of other unionist leaders are the source of today’s unionist fears. Let me explain. 

When it had the whip hand, unionism discriminated, gerrymandered and showed open contempt for its political opponents. Now that republicans hold the whip hand, unionists fear they will be similarly maltreated by their opponents.

Checking the Sinn Féin surge at City Hall

Checking the Sinn Féin surge at City Hall

But among republicans it was all smiling leaders, cheering crowds, delighted hugs, As Sinn Féin won seat after seat, TV coverage began to feel almost tedious. But there were  a few moments that lit up the analysis of what was going on. 

The most spectacular was delivered by the UUP’s Danny Kennedy. Whether it was because he was heartsore and weary watching Sinn Féin going where they had no right to go, or whether it was something he really believes, Kennedy produced sagging lower jaws in the TV studio and throughout NEI when he warned that Sinn Féin was winning too many seats and it’d deepen a unionist sense of isolation. The other panellists were at a loss. Was he actually saying that Sinn Féin should put on the handbrake and win fewer seats in case it upset unionist candidates and their followers? Well, yes, that’s just what he was saying. He may look mild, Danny, but he’s really a unique thinker.

The other person who caught my eye briefly was Martina Anderson. It’s alleged that the former political prisoner, MLA and MEP was asked, along with some others in the Derry area, to stand down after a pretty disastrous showing in the 2019 election. This caused a lot of resentment in Martina’s wider family circle, with mutterings that, under Martin McGuinness, this would never have been allowed to happen.

But the proof of the pudding etc: the replacement Shinner candidates in Derry were part of the SF juggernaut/tsunami that swept to victory throughout the north. The temptation  to sulk in her tent must have been massive, but word is that Martina was part of the SF campaigning team in North Antrim and certainly her appearance at the count centre suggested a commitment to her political party rather than personal ambition.  Maith thú, Martina.

So there you are. Maybe that’s why Sinn Féin keeps winning elections and unionists are less successful. The Shinners have a commitment to the cause, come what may; unionists meet defeat with charges that their opponents are playing dirty by winning.