Memorably UUP Leader Tom Elliott would not attend a GAA match. To do so would have exposed the UUP to criticism from the purists in the DUP.
Memorably in November 2010, Margaret Ritchie, then SDLP Leader wore a poppy at the Downpatrick Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
I have been told by some SDLP members that this cost SDLP votes in the 2011 Election. Other SDLP members have told me that it did not cost any votes. Both may be right. It might have been patchy. From my own perspective in November 2010, I may not have voted SDLP in November 2010, had there been an immediate election. But in May 2011, I was more committed. I did not actually join the party until late August or early September 2011.
It might seem odd then that Carál Ní Chuilín the Sinn Féin Minister whose “Culture” brief includes Sport…..went to a “Northern Ireland” football match. Then, Peter Robinson goes to a Saturday night GAA match in Armagh. Then Martin McGuinness goes to Windsor Park.
The choreography is as clumsy as an entire series of “Strictly Come Dancing”.
Uber-Gers man Gregory Campbell grins and bears it. Uber-Gael Barry McElduff grins and bears it also. If they are uncomfortable, they are not showing it.
Yet ………I am uncomfortable………because I would never set foot inside Windsor Park. And yet I do not consider myself as “extreme” as Sinn Féin. I therefore expect many mainstream nationalists are a bit uncomfortable with that. People who vote Sinn Féin or SDLP.
Likewise I consider that many mainstream unionists (UUP and DUP) voters are not exactly thrilled with Robinson going to a GAA match.
Notwithstanding the fact that SDLP members and voters are………nationalists, republicans, socialists and moderates…….although not necessarily with the same proportions. They may or may not be tolerant of Sinn Féin……..but I like to consider my Auntie Sheila, fifty years in the Clonard Confraternity who prayed the Rosary for Peace every night. Never seen her violent except when she told the big Paratrooper that she had “every hair on that childs head counted” (that child was me…….I was about 22 at the time). But Auntie Sheila never allowed an English newspaper thru the front door and was very quick to get the TV switched off before “God Save The Queen” at the closedown……Like I say………mainstream.
And I suspect there are a lot of Auntie Sheilas who vote SDLP and Sinn Féin who are a bit annoyed at the way Sinn Féin are rushing to the middle ground. And there might be someone reading this who has a very reasonable Auntie Bertha who is a moderate unionist but just a little uncomfortable at Peter Robinsons approach.
The point here is that Sinn Féin and DUP are being exposed. There is an opportunity I believe for SDLP and quite possibly UUP to exploit this feeling in mainstream republicanism and unionism.