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Biggest Gerrymander Since Partition Or Crisis in the Democratic Process

27 February, 2004

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said that the British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the Six Counties since they imposed partition.

Mr. Doherty said:

The British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the six counties since they opposed the expressed wishes of the people of this island and partitioned this country.

And that gerrymander is every bit as public as was the act of partition. And the consequences could be every bit as far reaching.

In May 2002 the British government in a gross interference in the electoral process, introduced restrictive electoral legislation for the six counties.

This legislation was introduced on foot of false claims by Sinn Fein's political opponents that the party was involved in electoral fraud.

These allegations are not only untrue they hide the real reason behind the legislation which was to remove the number of actual or potential Sinn Fein voters on the electoral register and erect barriers to those who want to exercise their right to vote.

This legislation is primarily aimed at trying to ring fence the electoral growth of Sinn Fein in the six counties. Of trying to prevent what unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson described last November, after the Assembly election results, as the unionist's 'worse nightmare scenario' but which is really Jeffrey's 'nightmare' scenario, that is Sinn Fein becoming the largest political party in the six counties.

And if this means that the British government have to drive a horse and four though the democratic process at its most important point: the exercise of a person's right to vote, then they will do so.

This legislation has resulted in 211,000 people being denied their right to vote. This represents 16.5% of the overall electorate in the north.

Those people denied the right to vote are not just potential voters for Sinn Fein. They are potential voters for all the parties‚ nationalist and unionist.

And not surprisingly those most affected by this legislation are working class people in both unionist and nationalist areas.

If you live in Ballybeen in East Belfast or Derry's Bogside and you want to vote you better be able to jump to get over the hurdles on your way to the polling station.

In this part of our island, across Britain and indeed most of Western Europe, governments are devising ways of making it easier for people to directly participate in the democratic process.

They are trying to find ways of ensuring that people vote during elections.

In the six counties the people there keenly exercise their franchise. The turnout at elections is the envy of many governments across the EU because it is very high.

This legislation threatens that participation. At a meeting in January, Denis Stanley, the north's Chief Electoral Officer, freely admitted that the number of people registered to vote by his office will fall annually and there was nothing he could do to rectify this situation.

This is an appalling admission by the person who is employed by the British government to ensure that the maximum numbers of people are registered to vote.

He is administering the annual shredding of the electoral register.

For decades republicans were lectured to from on high that their objectives could be achieved exclusively through the democratic process.

That in changed political circumstances there would be no barriers to the peaceful pursuit of a united Ireland.

That the British and indeed the Irish governments would guarantee a level playing field would be created where everyone would be treated equally.

And what do we now have?

Having failed to get the election results that they want in the north of Ireland, the British government and Sinn Fein‚s electoral rivals are now trying to get the electorate that they want.

But for our part facing into elections across this island in a few months time we will do our level best to ensure that on the 10th June Jeffrey Donaldson awakens to his worse nightmare, Sinn Fein as the lead party in the six counties.

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