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There is panic in the air. Poison also.

This the atmosphere in this place as the December 12th election date approaches.

Could anyone with absolute confidence write or predict the 18 winners in the Northern Ireland constituencies?

This is one of the old certainties that has been shaken. Our politics is being stirred. No longer settled.

The backdrop to this election is the Johnson/EU deal on Brexit – how the Prime Minister and the ERG dumped the DUP.

Those from here who believed in Boris made a terrible blunder.


Now, there are questions about the Union. This the panic and the poison in these election battles; Union versus Unity – Leave versus Remain.

The Brexit project has changed everything. Those who followed it blindly now trying to avoid scrutiny and ignoring the elephant they created in this election room.

Trying to bring Stormont into the frame is but another distraction. This election is about Brexit, its consequences and implications.

Stormont is for another day. When you read ‘BURNED’ – the book by News Letter Political Editor Sam McBride on RHI – so, you wonder whether Stormont should ever be restored. Why would people – why should people – believe in it?


The pre-December 12th election manoeuvres here have added to the play and to the unpredictability of the result.

To name but three of the seats, who would call North Belfast, South Belfast or Foyle?

No SDLP candidate in North Belfast. No Sinn Fein candidate in South Belfast. The Green Party not running in the Belfast constituencies or in North Down. No Ulster Unionist candidate in North Belfast. The DUP again supporting Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott in Fermanagh South Tyrone. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood challenging Sinn Fein’s Elisha McCallion in Foyle. Lady Sylvia Hermon not running in North Down.


The Ulster Unionist Party has a new leader going into this election – Steve Aiken. He had set out his stall – that the party would run 18 candidates across the constituencies; but, before the paint had dried on those words, they then withdrew from North Belfast.

The party was also chasing a big-name candidate to run in North Down.

Former Chief Constable Sir George Hamilton was approached; both from the top-tier of the UUP asking him to run for them, and by others exploring whether he would consider standing as an Independent. The UUP contact was before and after the announcement by Lady Hermon.

I was asked about this by presenter William Crawley on Radio Ulster Talk Back on Monday, and said: “It’s my understanding that he [Sir George Hamilton] has no intention of running for any political party. Nor has he any intention of running as an independent in this election.

“Was he approached by someone from the Ulster Unionist Party? I am told that is correct.

“Was he approached by others to run as an Independent? I’m also told that that is correct.”

That information has not been challenged either by Sir George or by Mr Aiken. I do not expect it will be.


This election in a few weeks time is not just about the winners, but about the wider numbers.

What they will tell us about Leave versus Remain and Union versus Unity? What the London arithmetic will add up to and how that will determine future direction.

We are in a fascinating political period.

Here, some are trying to narrow the conversation and the frame and the focus; but it is hard to hide an elephant, especially when it is standing beside you in the room.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at www.merrionpress.ie


  1. There’s been an elephant in the room for a very long time. Such a length of time that a team of scientists have been able to clone about half a dozen others and the room is practically full of them–in fact there are now probably more elephants in the room than there are unionists with the will or ability to see them.

    “The Union is safe, the Union is safe”, they have cried, and their media commentators with them, in some kind of strange and inverted version of the story of the little boy and the wolf; but the Union hasn’t been safe for years – nothing in need of defending is safe. They carried on regardless, however, assuming influence where they had none and failing, or refusing (for some inexplicable reason) to see that Northern Ireland may be as ‘British as Finchley’, but ‘Finchley’ doesn’t care.

    And so they have been left squeezed by the elephants while the only door out opens onto counties Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. But sure, all of Britain, nay, all of Europe will accommodate Ulster’s unionists.

    I’m a unionist, but the game is up… and the fault is all our own.

    “Safe, safe”, they cried, so no one thought to read the signs of the times.

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