Introducing “Westminster” (The Sinn Féin Pup)

As the adverts tell us, a puppy is not just for Christmas.

Last week, Sinn Féin were sold a pup. They…the Irish Nationalists and Republicans….agreed to hand “Welfare” (ie Welfare Cuts) back to ….Westminster.

But Sinn Féin assure us they will fight for the most vulnerable in Society….it is a contadiction. Meanwhile Sinn Féin criticise SDLP (the “Stoop Down Low Party”) for attending the House of Commons. But maybe SF is the “Stoop Further” Party.

It is all a bit of a farce. A year ago SF was accepting “welfare” cuts before doing a U-turn before the recent Westminster election.

Now they have caved in.



Not that their allies in DUP are much more principled. The “hokey cokey” resignations and appointments was because of speculation that the IRA Army Council was still on existence. As this has now been independently confirmed, it might be more logical if they resigned permenantly but they have curiously settled for the IRA to be “monitored”

Yet it would be only half the story to say that Sinn Féin sold out on “welfare” and DUP sold out on IRA….for both casually decided to overlook the Legacy issues….the victims of the Troubles.

Thats the real shame here.

In 1998 nationalists overwhelmingly and unionists narrowly voted for the Good Friday Agreement. We voted on the basis that the victims would not be forgotten. They received vague assurances and the word “Justice” was used a lot.

The promises got more vague. And the number of people who have actual first hand memories of the years 1969 to 1998 decreases with each passing year.

It is now crystal clear that their issues will not be dealt with. They have been quietly told to “get over it” and “its time to move on”

Will Sinn Féin and DUP lose votes? In any normal world, they would deserve to lose votes. They have let people down. But as the Assembly election is between the centenary of the Easter Rising and the centenary of the Somme, then it might still be possible for both parties to motivate the core vote.

All Sinn Féin needs to do is play up the chances of being the biggest party (and get Martin McGuinness into the First Ministers seat)….and ironically thats all the DUP need to do…paint a nightmare scenario.

Meanwhile David Ford of Alliance Party is the Minister for Justice. Dont expect him to rock the boat…will he get into the House of Lords in the New Years “Honours” or will he wait until June and the Birthday “Honours”. That would suit the Alliance Party better….and he would be above the battle between Stephen Farry and Naomi Long for the Leadership.

There has never really been a point to David Ford …a man loitering with intent of a peerage. For services to toadying to DUP and Sinn Féin….a LetsGetAlongerist success story.

SDLP will feel they have had a good week. Colum Eastwood and Fearghal MCKinney have brought a degree of energy and the three Westminster MPs have played a blinder.

And Alex Attwood was at his forensic best in the Assembly …and it was at least interesting to see Sinn Féin and their Twitter Army squirm around.

Next step? Well….Sinn Féin bought this pup. Now they have to feed it and take wee “Westminster” walkies in West Belfast, Derry, Newry and Ardoyne.

“Westminster” looks a cute wee puppy now. But he has some Rottweiler in him. Maybe he will be biting Sinn Féin on the arse before he is much older.


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SDLP…That Was The Week That Was

Or an alternative headline…”SDLP …a  week is a long time in Politics”. It seems that this was a good week for SDLP. On Saturday, last week, we were all a bit nervy. This Saturday, we are more optimistic than we have been fora long time.

There was something about last weekends Leadership Election that makes me think we should have had “white smoke” coming out of a chimney to signify that the College of Cardinals …or SDLP delegates…had made a decision. A religious person might be tempted to think the Holy Spirit was involved.

For as I blogged a week before the election, this was not an election that would be decided by factions within SDLP…the strongest silent vote was rank and file SDLP members, who dont care much for either faction.

Hence  the balance…Colum Eastwood is Leader and Fearghal McKinney is Deputy Leader and better still, if I had hand-picked the Party Executive, I doubt if I could have been more pleased.

And of course, this week we had that “Deal” at Stormont…and a succession of Sinn Féin MLAs trying to turn Defeat into Victory…and the week ending with people actually wanting to join SDLP.

I am …dare I say it…a bit like the Holy Spirit. I move in mysterious ways.

The Conference is not about the “hall”. Rather, the actionis a series of ten minute conversations with some people I have got to know over the past five years. And people-watching.

Best moment of Conference was the speeches proposing and seconding reducing the voting age to sixteen. Conference debuts for Mr Ruairi McDonnell (17) and Ms Dearbhla McDonnell (16)…Alasdairs older kids….brilliant speeches it must be genetic (yes we all made the same joke).

Interesting to observe that there are some MLAs who seem to move around witha personal entourage. It is amusing to watch. Young folks obviously watching too much “The West Wing”.

Interestingly, the post which I recently wrote on the rise and rise of “staffers” went down well with veteran councillors and not so well with “staffers”. “Staffers is actually a very broad term. It covers HQ/Press Office staff, the highly political advisors attached to individual MLAs, the apolitical and brilliant constituency office people and a sprinkling of student types.

Increasingly, the actual councillors who are dealing with real issues like street lighting, garbage collection and housing problems look as if they have been usurped by political professionals and wannabe professionals, who are interested in “big issues”.

I am not sure if I like or dislike this new development. It is amusing to watch. At one level, HQ seems to think that rank and file members …especially uppity ones like me…are a pain in the arse and that SDLP would function better if it was left to them. There is something wonderfully chaotic about SDLP. We rely on our hearts rather than our heads. The professionals are effectively trying to herd cats.

It is all about …balance.

The extent to which the political professionals are committed to SDLP or a CV is variable. I have seen too many whizzkids who once seemed very central and somehow drifted into other employment …they have transferrable skills. When I run across them at seminars etc now and I ask them if they are still Party members, they shrug their shoulders. So there is a turnover of staffers and wannabees. But the trend seems to be that we are getting more in than we are losing.

A political party is a bit like a puppy…not just for Christmas.

Some might say that I am bitter and twisted because I have applied for “staff jobs” with SDLP in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and never even been shortlisted for interview. And some people who say that, might be absolutely right. Some might say that I know a fair bit about Politics…but I am too lazy to actually “do” anything. In my defence, I am 63 years old and just haven’t the energy.


This Blog gets no support from the “Party” but increasingly, I feel that it is a voice for “rank and file” people. I have more credibility with non-SDLP members when I am 90% “on message”. Mostly, I am too quirky to worry about how I am viewed within the SDLP. But there was one uncomfortable moment last weekend…it was both amusing and hurtful.

Take a look at the pic above. That is Alan from Slugger O’Toole, who along with David McCann was accredited as “Press”. Of course they sought accreditation and I didnt. Now leaving aside the very generois term “Press” to cover Blogging…they are facilitated more than I am. They get into Conference for “free”.

As a member I can attend private sessions. But the Conference brochure, annual reports etc costs me £15. It is “gold dust” to me, not least the list of runners and riders for Executive posts. Slugger does not get a copy of the brochure…but as I understand it, BBC have a copy.

The point I make here, is that …banter aside…Slugger O’Toole is not notoriously pro-SDLP. I feel that I am paying to actually blog in support of SDLP. The SDLP have a reputation for listening to other voices. I daresay thats a good thing…a feature of SDLP Conferences. Professor Deirdre Heenan, Rev Norman Hamilton this year. But sometimes it would be nice to listento our own voices.

Just three weeks ago, I was at the Lyric Theatre …a SDLP seminar on Civil Society. Deirdre was on the panel again, along with Ryan Feeney from the GAA. As far as I know neither are members of SDLP. And David McCann of Slugger O’Toole was on the panel…substituting for Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole.

Now here is the thing. Mick has a lot more experience in this field than I have. Fair play. But come on ….David McCann? It really makes no sense for SDLP people to be tweeting that BBC featured Eamonn McCann and Chris Donnelly on a Spotlight programme on Colum Eastwood. Can we really whinge about that when we do it ourselves.

That should be the first item on the agenda for Colum and Fearghal…OUR OWN VOICES.

Perhaps I am slightly marginalised in SDLP because I never identified with one faction or another.  Maybe too much of a loose cannon. But more likely it is because SDLP has not put too much effort into Blogging.

The marginalisation is irritating because there is a delicate balance. The last thing I would want is to be an “embedded SDLP blogger”. But frankly Id like just a wee bit more appreciation.

It will beinteresting to see how the Assembly Election campaign is planned.


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Deal Or No Deal?

Well of course there IS a Deal. The only requirement is that DUP and Sinn Féin reach an agreement. The other Parties in the so-called “power-sharing” Executive saw the Agreement forty five minutes before Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness went public.

By the way, it is amazing how DUP and Sinn Féin can talk up a defeat into a victory.

For make no mistake, they are both defeated. DUP threatened the collapse of the Executive on the basis that the IRA Army Council was still in existence….and the fig leaf they have been given is that paramilitary activity will be “monitored”.

And Sinn Féin and Welfare Reform. Well the decision making process has been re-allocated to Westminster.That would be the uber republicans who dont even take seats in Westminster. They have sold out.

The logical step for this all-Ireland Party is to write the same policy into their Dáil manifesto.

Of course all political parties would have to find a solution and thats the trade-off. But really the shock in the Agreement is the total abandonment of Victims. After nearly eighteen years of delaying tactics…both DUP and Sinn Féin and of course the British have just given up on the “legacy” issues.

Truth has been officially abandoned. Justice has been officially abandoned. How can David Ford stay in Government as Minister for Justice?

Can SDLP sign up to this? No.

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Marchons! Marchons!…A French Lesson

I think the French National Anthem is my second favourite. English newspapers are printing the  words so that football fans can sing along tonight as England play France in a friendly international. But there is a certain irony because the words would send a shiver down the spine of aristocrats and foeigners alike.

The Marsailles is the song of the French Revolution. Perceived in the palaces in London, Berlin, Moscow and Vienna as Terror…France was a “rogue state exporting Terrorism”.  It is a familiar pattern …the French Summer of 1789 descended into Chaos and Terror. Attrocities like babies being crucified on the doors of churches. So a few years ago we had the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya….Syria. And we have Terror exported and babies crucified.

French people understand the pre-Napolean Terror. The treatment of the young Dauphin is just one stain on the Revolution ,,,,and the French and the rest of the democratic world regard the French Revolution as a good thing. And even an anthem that warns that French fields will bloom from the blood of its enemies is sung heartily by French schoolchildren.

One of the most annoying aspects of the 21st century has been the disgraceful way France has been represented in United States and Britain. If it wasnt for USA, the French would be speaking German so French fries become “freedom fries”. Of course if it wasnt for the French, Americans would be speaking a much better form of English and having “chips with everything”.

And that American Revolution experience was fairly reciprocal. The French Army and Navy dispatched to deal with a common enemy at Yorktown were sent by a King….but a lot of French soldiers quite liked this new “Republic” and brought the message home.

So American and French history are entwined. And was it only last week that I read a “joke” online ….the colours of the American Flag on the Moon have faded to white and aloens are confused as they think the French got there first.

Yet nobody is saying it this week. France is the “oldest ally of the United States”

Not that it is much better in England. An entire generation of English stand-up comedians has grown rich on jokes about French surrenders and how Britain saved French arses in World War Two. Actually its more complicated than that. French and British arses who had both honourably gone to war in defence of Poland in 1939 were saved by United States…who had only gone to war when it was attacked in 1941?

Easrlier this year the narrative was Wellington defeating Bonaparte at Waterloo (1815-2015). Today it is all “Entente Cordiale”.

So the French are not exactly the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” of 21st century myth.

Not that the French are perfect. The Indo-China Empire became America’s Vietnam. And post-WW2 as the French and British empires (on American orders) collapsed …the excesses in Algeria mirrored British excesses in Kenya.

But as Americans have adopted the French this week, so too have the British ….the old enemy is now an old rival on the football field and by a quirk of fate, tonight’s match …a friendly …is the first that France will have played since the traumatic events of Ftriday night.

There was something crass about American and British attitudes to France for more than a decade. The U-turn is just as crass. Will the BBC dedicate a week to French culture with back-to-back episodes of “‘Allo ‘Allo”.

There is not much ambiguity in Ireland about France. In 1690, King Louis sent troops to Ireland to fight a common enemy. As did Republican France in 1798. And the ideals of Republican France inspired Republican Ireland. The Irish Flag a direct copy of the French Flag.

So no U-turn required at last night’s football match in Dublin. Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the great problem with “One Minute Silence” is that a handful of voices can be heard among 60,ooo silences. And a section of the Bosnian support were unpleasantly noisy.

The Bosnian behaviour was a headline which overshadowed Ireland winning the match. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Why?

In simple terms, Europe is not wholly “Christian” and “post-Christian”. Bosnia is a Muslim country and with attrocities committed there less than three decades ago…by Christian Serbs….and with precious little help to the Bosnians from the rest of Europe, it is likely that they were in no mood to listen to lectures on “European Civilisation”.

It keeps getting worse. With the number of refugees reaching the safety of Europe, any risk assessment would say that statistically some Islamist fighters are getting into Paris and London by a trojan horse. It is making us all too nervous. Paranoid….because the second and third generation terrorists are already in Paris andLondon…and fully integrated. In every sense the jihadists speak Europes language.In every sense Europeans do not speak their language.

And as State Governments in USA demand that the Federal Government restrict migration, it demonstrates that the War on Terror is already lost. “Do NOT send your huddled masses” is something that fundamentally changes USA.

And of course the Statue of Liberty is a gift…from France.

War on “Terror” or any Noun does not make sense.

The conflict is between Life and Death. It will get worse.

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LetsGetAlongerist Football

The essence of Sport is competition.

So we have a peculiar situation where some of our politicians will be falling over themselves to support two teams in one competition.

Norn Iron have qualified for the European Football Championships in France next year. And so have the (Republic of) Ireland.

I daresay some LetsgetAlongerists will take this as an opportunity to parade their peculiar “I have more than one identity” nonsense.

Politics is one thing….but this is FOOTBALL for GODS sake….so there is a choice to be made. Support Norn Iron or support Ireland….but lets not have the hypocrisy of “I want both Irelands” to do well. Life is not like that. You are Manchester United or Manchester City. You are Liverpool or Everton. You are Arsenal or Tottenham.

Nobody in Football has a complicated identity.

Of course some enterprising Tshirt manufacturer might produce one that can be worn by politicians and non-sports people to make a political point…letsgetalongerism, ahead of the Assembly Elections. An accidental boost for a shared future in 2016. Pitched between the Easter Rising and the Somme.

And of course it will be safe to wear a LetsGetAlongerist tshirt in Belfast bars and watching matches on big screen TV in the grounds of the City Hall. The right marketing campaign and thiscould attract young people. An unexpected “Bread and Circus” event.

You can bet that somebody, somewhere is doing this already. Manipulation.

Yet it seems more about Politics and Social Engineering than actual Sport.

Of course  the good thing is that Norn Iron and Ireland are unlikely to play against each other in France. They will be seeded on sporting grounds and safety grounds to avoid each other. Several thousand actual football fans from both sides of the border (plus a strong detachment of Nordies cheering on the Ireland) will be a contrast to scenes at Stormont and City Hall.

LetsGetAlongerists claim that the people are actually ahead of the politicians. But this is different. Football is much more tribal than Politics.

And of course you can bet there is a photo opportunity here for thousands of football fans to visit the Somme and commemorate their phoney shared history.

Make no mistake. This will be manipulated. But LetsGetAlongerists  messing with History is one thing. But LetsGetAlongerists messing with Football….thats going too far.


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Manifesto Mash Up

I have never really understood “lobbying”. Always seems to me that the average voter  who has a problem with Family Tax Credit might be better just calling in to the constituency office of any MLA. Why would they go to a “middle man”.

So I dont understand why Stratagem need a small room at SDLP Conference. True, the presentation on Suicide Prevention was a very worthwhile exercise.


The  curiosity about Stratagem was an assortment of eager young staff and interns, all armed with ipads and iphones and lap tops and constantly photographing everything like Japanese tourists. It was a bit like GCHQ on tour.

Burt generally I am skeptical of this kinda nonsense. So being there was a kinda weird feeling. But I felt justified in helping myself to three free pens. But I did not use the vouchers for free Stratagem-brewed coffee.


There was a curious event later on. A “Manifesto Mash-Up”. Apparently the idea is that a group of people pitch ideas at “three dragons” (sic). One of these dragons assessing these ideas was Tina McKenzie, late of NI21. I swear I am not making this up.

I did try and make the point that this is the reason that people join a political party. Do we really need a “middle man”?

So….”Manifesto Mash Up” ???? . No idea what it is but I am a firm believer that if it looks like a load of unmitigated bollox, then that is what it is.


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Winter Fuel Payment …Iain Duncan Smith Is Not A Friend.

One of the exhibitors at the SDLP Conference was a charity for Older People…which now sadly means ME. So in conversation with the guy on the stall it emerged that I am entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment…a benefit given to people over 60 to ease the burden of paying for home heating oil.

I had never really considered myself eligible. Other people I know received this without applying. You get it “automatically” if entitled. I assumed that the fact my wife is still under 60 and still working meant it is a means tested benefit.

So I called at a Benefits Centre today. The person I spoke to was not really sure that I qualified and had to take advice by phone. She also assumed that I would have got it automatically. So thru the (English-based) Dept of Works and Pensions, I established the following.

1 The only relevant point is being 60 or over at mid-winter….subject of course to actually living at home and not living abroad, being in prison, hospital or Old Folks home.

2 My wifes income …or mine for that matter…is not part of the equation. It is not “means tested”

3 I am 63 and have a “company pension”. I dont receive ANY Social Security Benefit.

4 The “automatic” payment is triggered thru being “in the system”. And in not receiving benefits, I am not in the system.

5 So the onus was on me…to tell Ian Duncan Smith ….that I am entitled. Seemingly, the scheme and its provisions are well advertised …well, not as far as I am aware.

6 But surely I AM on the system. As soon as I gave the call centre my National Insurance Number….naturally my Date of Birth appears.

7 Now the Good News …my phone call today means that they have “captured” my details. I am now on the system and will get Winter Fuel Payment for the rest of my life or until the Tories cut it. I will get my payment into my bank account in February.

8 Now the Bad News…the earlier years. No payments are paid retrospectively. Presumably if an old person survives the winter, it is clear that they didnt actually need the payment. There is no appeals procedure.

Now there are two ways of looking at this and Readers may choose to believe that the Welfare Bill is too high and a retrospective payment to a fairly intelligent, articulate man with a working wife would be unacceptable.

Or…there is the other way of looking at it. I was not in the system BECAUSE I have no other benefits but a person of my age (who was as ignorant as I was about entitlement) and receiving the same company pension  …AND another state benefit would have got the money. Indeed a retired millionaire would be entitled.

It just annoys me.

So if you know anyone who is over 60….make sure they make a claim.

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