THE CIRCULAR

6 Counties Elections – the view from West Belfast

Hunger strikers mural, West Belfast. Pic by Sarah Holland for the circular.org

For the first time in the history of the partitioned state, an Irish republican party makes up the largest group of elected representatives in the Stormont Assembly. James Craig, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of the sectarian state from 1921 until his death in 1940, referred to Stormont as “a protestant parliament for a protestant people” and white, protestant supremacy reigned in the 6 counties until the 1970’s, when direct rule from Westminster was implemented. 2022 saw a momentous change in the 6 counties with a deliberate swing away from an old religious patriarchy and towards progress, peace and prosperity.

Belfast City Hall, Photo by Dimitry Anikin

West Belfast and other working class Irish areas bore the brunt of the brutality of the British army, and resistance to the occupation was demonised by Irish free state politicians and media organisations.

The Circular spoke to two long term community activists from West Belfast. Councillor Geraldine Holland-McAteer became a political activist in her teens. Her sister Teresa (Tish) was interned without trial at just 16 and was held until she was 21. On Tish’s release, the sisters spent the next years campaigning for prisoners’ rights, civil rights and building community resources for the people of West Belfast.

Tish and Geraldine top centre, Belfast Sinn Féin 1980’s. Pic courtesy of Alex Maskey for thecircular.org

We also met with the MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey. Maskey entered electoral politics in 2001 when he won a seat on Belfast City Council and from there, moved to the legislative assembly and then to Westminster in 2011.

14 year old Laila gave her hopes for the future and a brief insight into how the lives of teenagers now are very different from the lived experiences of teenagers exposed to British imperialism in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

The mood in West Belfast is buoyant despite the challenges ahead in forming a government and realising the outstanding legislation of language and women’s rights. The journey towards equality, dignity and respect is one which has to involve every aspect of society in the 6 counties if a new Ireland is to be achieved.

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