So, which party will I vote for on Thursday?

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James Connolly and other radical leaders made a major contribution to the 1916 rising although first and foremost it was about national self-determination. Within five years the national issue was well on its way towards resolution.

James Connolly and other radical leaders made a major contribution to the 1916 rising although first and foremost it was about national self-determination. Within five years the national issue was well on its way towards resolution.

However, it took until 1949 before the last remnants of the British connection were severed. On a visit to Canada, Taoiseach John A. Costello declared an Irish Republic. Of course, partition still existed so it wasn’t quite the visionary republic Pearse had declared 33 years earlier. Costello’s declaration had the effect of removing the 26 counties from the British Commonwealth and so, at least in unionist minds, it further reinforced partition.

Considering the radical left’s major contribution to 1916 it was strange that Ireland ended up with two of the most conservative governments anywhere in the world. Both the Belfast and the Dublin administrations were well to the right in economics and in social policy. Both established almost theocratic states; a Catholic one in the south and a Protestant one in the north.

The major parties in the 26 counties, Fine Gael successor to the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal and De Valera’s Fianna Fáil were traditionalist. They divided only according to how they had shot in the Civil War. They were often described as “centrist” parties but independent Ireland maintained an extremely unequal society. That’s despite Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s famous claim that he was a socialist. As for the Unionist Party’s social conservativism, enough said. Incidentally, I was mildly amused by a letter writer to a Belfast paper last week who described Captain Terence O’Neill as, “possibly Northern Ireland’s most progressive prime minister since 1922”. Talk about a case of damned by feint praise!

Now let’s fast-forward to the present. Given Ireland’s long tradition of conservativism, how should a mainstream, pragmatic nationalist in the North vote in this week’s election?

The SDLP, as the name suggests is definitely a left-of-centre party, albeit a moderate one. What about anti-austerity Sinn Féin? Is it a party of the radical left? On one hand the party has opposed Tory welfare cuts but on the other it has supported proposals to cut corporation tax for big business. The party’s four MEPs have links with the Confederal Group of the European United Left and it has strongly endorsed Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ radical left Syriza Party. I’m not implying any value-judgements on that.

Like many people, I’d be slightly to the left in some respects and slightly to the right in others. It’s completely wrong to make the poorest and most vulnerable in society pay for the greed of wealthy bankers but it’s equally wrong to encourage welfare dependency. There is a sensible argument in favour of capping welfare benefits and there is something badly wrong when one in ten of our population depends on Disability Living Allowance.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to rehearse all the issues one-by-one. You’ve got the idea. Society should support the weak but I’m against big government, endless law-making and unnecessary social and economic interventions.

I’m a nationalist, closer to the pragmatic mainstream of Irish politics than to the radical left. So, which party will I be voting for on Thursday? Well, it’ll be one of the two nationalist parties I’ve mentioned but, in the absence of a wider choice, I’ll be lending my vote as distinct from making a doctrinaire commitment to the left.