If I lived in Northern Ireland, I wouldn’t know who to vote for. I don’t have a real opinion on whether the six counties should be part of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland, and I’m a left-wing socialist, so many of the main Northern Irish parties are out of the question for me. The history of Sinn Féin puts many of my Labour NI comrades off voting for them. The SDLP, despite claiming to be left-wing social democrats, are quite conservative with many of their representatives opposing equal marriage and abortion. The Alliance Party is the sister party of the Liberal Democrats and is far more socially liberal than the DUP or SDLP, supports equal marriage, opposes sectarianism and takes a neutral stance on the union, however they are still too right-wing for many voters. The Green Party of Northern Ireland is a good bet for socialists, but they are still small and usually don’t stand candidates in all constituencies at Westminster or Stormont.
The Labour Party does have a branch in Northern Ireland but it isn’t currently allowed to put candidates up for election. The branch backed Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election partly because he was committed to an immediate review of the ban on official Labour candidates standing in Northern Ireland. In the 2016 leadership election, thirty-three Northern Ireland CLP members abstained from nominating a candidate, with some saying they made their decision because neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Owen Smith supports the party’s right to stand in Northern Irish elections.
In the 2016 Stormont elections, some Northern Ireland CLP members stood under the tag of ‘NI Labour Representation Committee’ and received a total of 1,577 votes, about half the vote share of the NI Conservatives, and the anti-capitalist People Before Profit Alliance received 13,761 votes and won two seats. This suggests there is an appetite for a real Labour movement in Northern Ireland.
I feel a left-wing democratic socialist party with a neutral stance on the union would be hugely beneficial for politics in Northern Ireland as it could trigger a political interest for some non-voters, increase engagement between party members, attract the diminishing SDLP vote and even has the potential to win over some reluctant DUP/UUP voters who would rather not support such regressive parties but often vote based on a nationalist-unionist scale rather than left-right.
To sum it all up: there are many disillusioned voters in Northern Ireland who feel alienated by the politics of the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Sinn Féin, and would like a new political movement with a message of hope. Labour has what it takes to provide the working class people of Northern Ireland with a better future.