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back to front - the centre cannot hold


In his poem "The Second Coming" W. B. Yeats wrote: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold". And though the recent Westminster and local government elections in northern Ireland were not exactly what he had in mind, his words were nonetheless prophetic.

The latest gains in these elections by both Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein would seem, at first glance, to represent a further polarisation of unionists and republicans into antagonistic camps hell-bent on mutual destruction. It should have been accompanied by a visible rise in tension and dark mutterings in blacked out city streets and unlit country roads.

Should have been, but wasn't. For the vast majority it was as if the elections had taken place in another country, a country that they knew by reading about it in the newspapers but that really they weren't that interested in.

The days since the signing of the Belfast Agreement have brought about a strange paradox, represented on the one hand by the number of votes cast for the DUP and on the other by the success of the cross-border rail service which has more than trebled the number of passengers carried in that time. While in every other aspect of their lives people in northern Ireland say Yes the DUP continue to say No to everything and Sinn Fein continue to thrive on their saying No.

And so nothing changes. Direct rule continues and with it the continued destruction of the education service; the closure of public libraries; the longest NHS waiting lists of any region in the United Kingdom; the mania for target-setting and cost saving; the destruction of traditional industries; and the introduction of water charges to mask years of neglect and lack of investment.

To add insult to injury, northern Ireland has imposed on it the dreadful Peter Hain as the new colonial overseer to make sure Labour policies are pushed through by a set of ministers who are accountable to no one but themselves.

That is the real story of the election in northern Ireland. With direct rule continuing, the DUP can pose as a party of principle safe in the knowledge that it can always blame the government for the destruction of public services, rather than trying to lead a campaign to save them.

These are the real concerns of workers in northern Ireland, concerns that barely got a mention in the manifestos of the political parties other than as afterthoughts hidden by vast swathes of red, white and blue or green, white and orange. And, as the story on page 5 shows, it is the workers organised in their trade unions who will take to the government the fight to save what is really important.