Margaret Ritchie In Westminster

Sinn Féin had a bad day yesterday. Martin McGuinness seemed a bit like a rabbit caught in headlights over the G8 Summit. There’s certainly something in this for the SDLP. Better minds than mine will need to sit down and work out a strategy.

Sinn Féin had a worse day today. I quite like Mitchel McLaughlin. But on the Justice Committee today he looked rattled. In fairness a victim, especially an articulate one like Ann Travers will always come out of a confrontation will nearly always win. Her obvious bravery underscored by the fact that she is undergoing treatment for cancer (I wish her well).

So two bad days for Sinn Féin.

And made worse by a (to my mind) excellent performance by Margaret Ritchie in the House of Commons. Freed from the burden of leadership, Margaret seems to be thriving, making a pretty good speech at the SDLP Conference. As one SDLP member put it to me “you are seeing the real Margaret Ritchie”.

Today’s Commons speech…..she accused the DUP of requesting that the Irish Government divert some funding to loyalists……the DUP were outraged, especially Nigel Dodds who was full of bluster.

There SEEMS to be a series of issues on which the SDLP seems to be scoring points. Of course when we watch a boxing match, we are sometimes shocked that the judges did not see a scoring punch….but there seems to be enough issues on which the SDLP can claim to have scored…..beginning I think with Girdwood……but clearly SDLP have had a decent first half of 2012 and a pretty good second half.

Confidence breeds Confidence. There is a certain swagger with SDLP politicians at the moment. Of course Sinn Fein are capable of landing punches also. And it is in the nature of these things that SDLP will expose its chin and get a timely wake-up call.

I am not sure where it started to go a bit wobbly for Sinn Féin. Arguably Martin McGuinness did not break out a genuinely “new” vote in the Presidential Election (October 2011) and a few wheels have started to come off……Parades, Welfare, Victims, Irish Language, Prisoners. Frankly Robinson seems to be dominating McGuinness at the moment.

Those resignations from Stormont……….Gildernew, Murphy, Maskey and Doherty seem slightly premature. These folks were big hitters. And as yet their co-opted replacements have hardly shone. And there is the looming Mid Ulster by-election, except of course McGuinness still hasn’t resigned.

All I can claim is that SDLP are “in the game”. No more. No less. And the increasingly vitriolic abuse directed at SDLP by Tinternet warriors seems to point up that Sinn Féin knows the SDLP have got their act together.

In fairness, I should point out that the Boxing metaphor was inspired by contributions from Eskrimador, a contributor to

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34 Responses to Margaret Ritchie In Westminster

  1. Charlie says:

    Hi Fitz,

    I had a look on the BBC iplayer for the house of commons debate brought by deputy Dodds to see her intervention and couldn’t find it. I skimmed through it a couple of times. Can you tell me if the link below i the correct one and what minute she is speaking at?

    On a broader point, while its a crude segway, I wanted to bring you up on a small personal sample regarding your analysis of the intra-nationlaist contest.

    last time I was at home in Derry was last May. I met up with three school buddies for a drink. The conservation, for the first time (possibly driven by me) got round to local politics as the assembly elections just finished. Up to then I knew little about two of their backgrounds.

    Derry is interesting as SF have been closing the gap to just a few hundred votes (SF 34% SDLP 35%). Out of our small sample it transpired that two voted SDLP and two SF so it seemed like a microcosm of the town to me. As it turned out the two SDLP voters were just home for a couple of weeks (both PhD students in England) while the other two have long since finished their undergrads and have jobs in the town.

    Firstly, this made me think that part of the reason for the narrowing of the gap could be the greater propensity for the average SDLP voter to go over the water or further afield although I honestly don’t know. In our case we both had to work hard to get a vote in the constituency (I had to get the postgraduate administrator to sign a form) and other, less sad individuals, probably wouldn’t bother.

    Secondly, out of the two SF fellas, both would have a great regard for Hume like most in Derry but one’s family moved in republican circles that even he was unaware of for a while (and I’ll leave it at that), so his SF vote was probably no surprise but would not be anti-SDLP in my opinion. The last one therefore was probably the swing voter. Probably from an SDLP house as well but punted for SF, almost apologetically, by saying that the SDLP aren’t really going anywhere and SF look like they are. In other words he was excusing his vote almost by saying he wanted to just vote for a winner or a party at least seen to be on the move. People like him are probably the target swing nationalist voter who still probably harbour SDLP leanings but felt they haven’t got their hands dirty or made enough noise in recent years.

    It makes blogs like yours all the more relevant therefore by chronically recently landed punches in a coherent fashion for people like him to stumble across and read about someday.

    One last point, I still believe that while these blows are useful, I think SF’s really difficulty will come when they genuinely can’t take their republican flank for granted and they get squeezed on one side by side they’re sellouts to republicanism by taking all their baby steps into the political mainstream and denouncing people doing what they did, and the otherside, the genuine heavy lifting constitutional nationalists with no baggage, nothing to apologise for and no heads of needles to have to dance on to distinguish between good shootings and bad shootings. I don’t know how that will manifest itself though as I figure a serious concerted dissident republican campaign may too be seen as caving in to constitutional politics…

    • Thanks indeed for this well reasoned comment. I cant look for the Margaret Ritchie thing right now but I WILL certainly do so later (I am going out for a few hours) and I suspect my own comment here will be quite long. Your experience of the four guys in Derry is I think fairly typical.
      I married in 1982 and we voted SDLP until 1993. Due to a basically personal dispute, I started to vote Sinn Féin but my wife, a much more forgiving type continued to vote SDLP.
      I would say that certainly in the decade1997-2007 I was kinda glad that our votes cancelled each other out (we always give SDLP & SF the #1 & #2s) although that became more problematic as our sons (and now wives) are voting age. And as they voted SF then the family vote became unbalanced.
      I would hate to see my sons abstain from voting but of course the older they get, the less influenced they are by me. And I would certainly hate to see them vote outside the “nationalist” bloc. I see no danger of that.
      And I think they will be influenced by conscience, their interests/ideals (as we all are) and whether, for example there is a service provided by a MLA…eg signing a passport form.
      Obviously Sunday (after-dinner) afternoon conversations in the FJH household are often “political” and obviously Id expect my sons to be supportive if I ever ran for public office (unlikely but not impossible) and even supportive of this Blog. In other words…… you acknowledge, this Blog CAN shape debates. Albeit on a limited way. But it maybe contributes to other pub conversations or after dinner conversations in some houses.
      Although SDLP & SF are at daggers drawn a lot of the time……in politics its easier to be nice to your enemies than your rivals (theres a big difference), I have never fallen into the trap of using words like “Shinners” or “Stoops”. It debases politics.
      And I think on this issue, members of the two political parties are quite different from the people who actually vote for them.
      For example just after I joined the SDLP, I was at a meeting in Belfast and just happened to mention Id voted SF for about 15 years and the reaction of one was a bit ……hostile.
      Now in fairness, that was certainly a minority view and I think (as someone told me later) I had completely misunderstood that everyone who has lived thru the Troubles has their own story. In other words…be sensitive.
      But the point is that SDLP canvassers have a very good opportunity here. The floating nationalist voter DOES exist. And no SDLP canvasser can adopt a high-minded attitude to people who are persuadable.
      As you know I am writing some pieces for an American trip in February and necessarily I have to find examples from USA which MIGHT illustrate Norn Iron better.
      In their Civil Rights struggle, they had Martin Luther King…….and Malcolm X. Which actually succeeded? Was it King’s peaceful protests or Malcolm Xs militant stance.
      In other words is Obama in the White House because of Martin Luther King? He would certainly publicly claim that. Or is he in the White House because of Malcolm X? He could never go on TV and say that LOL.
      Or is the honest answer……a bit of both.
      Which brings me to an uncomfortable fact. But my background is after all …….HISTORY.
      The SDLP will routinely claim that it was “politics wot won it”. That the place my sons……and grandsons find themselves today is due to SDLP.
      But SF will routinely claim it was because of Bobby Sands and the Armed Struggle…..Terrorism.
      What is the honest answer?
      I am not even going to try and answer …not least because my family are in a much better place than the families of the victims of that Armed Struggle.
      But a clue is maybe that John Hume talked to Gerry Adams.
      And another clue is that on that Bobby Sands Mural it states that “everyone …….republican and otherwise…..has a part to play”

    • watched first 25 minutes on iplayer and still no sign of Margaret 😦

  2. I agree with you about Sinn Féin. Their position is looking increasingly analogous to that of the SNP in Scotland. Perhaps it is something to do with the transition from opposition politics to governmental ones? The party has certainly lost a considerable amount of its ideological zeal.

    Their core beliefs have been smothered by the perceived necessity for compromise and in the process they have lost their way. Such compromises have damaged the SNP in Scotland, effectively destroyed the Green Party in this part of the country, and are eroding support for SF in the north (not to mention retarding electoral growth down south – in contradiction of the perceived wisdom of political commentators with their “Don’t mention the North” advice).

    SF needs to go back to its radical and progressive roots. Which some in the SDLP like yourself are advocating for your own party. However I remain cautious about the SDLP’s wider relevance. I suspect the electoral erosion will continue, though perhaps at a slower rate. And the leadership remains problematic. One can see an Alex Salmond type politician emerging from Sinn Féin. But the SDLP? In terms of influence and popularity, and vision, was John Hume typical of the SDLP or entirely atypical?

    I do agree with the points made by Charlie above. This blog is certainly a very good advertisement for the SDLP in terms of the vision thing and what your party may have to offer 🙂

    • Thanks for this. I was actually wondering today if the SDLP is essentially a Party of “protest” or “opposition” rather than “government”.
      At the moment at least…and possibly for 12 months it has been in “semi-Opposition” and seems to actually be more at ease with itself.
      It may be that when SDLP had the majority of nationalist votes and Executive seats (1999) that they were maybe just five or more years too old ….they seemed to collectively think “ah we deserve this” and relax. A sense of Entitlement maybe.

      Sinn Féin….are they in that same place. On the bus today I was trying to remember the name of the SF MLA who replaced Paul Maskey in West Belfast. I SHOULD know because I came across her once years ago….but I was thinking how as a Manchester United supporter, there is a collective groan when Alex Ferguson sends out a weakened team and they dont deliver.
      I wonder if SF standing down Doherty, Murphy, Maskey, Gildernew…and for that matter Anderson..has actually helped.
      Obviously the new people need time to get their bearings but although Ive been impressed by Declan McAleer, I cant actually remember the names of the others without checking wikipedia. As yet…they have not really registered with me.
      Not actually sure what that was all about… SF terms, Westminster is an invisible job….and Id speculate that removing a tier of leadership might actually remove leadership challenges.
      But it looks short sighted. They have deliberately weakened the team.
      If McGuinness…..Ni Chuilín (lightweight in my view), O’Neill (unsure of her), O’Dowd (a heavyweight certainly) G Kelly and J McCann …are the leadership…..
      then Ruane (a failure I suppose), McLaughlin (under-rated) seem to be second tier. Alex Maskey too I suppose but over-exposed.
      That certainly leaves McKay (still to be promoted), McElduff (who is a bit of a buffoon), Molloy (a Deputy Speaker and apolitical)….people like Sue Ramsey (surprisingly good) and McCartney (a disappointment) and Boylan (of whom I know little) just dont seem ready.
      A lot of SF faith in Flanagan.
      But its hard to see Brady, F McCann, Sheehan really stepping up to second tier level.
      Of course weakening the team…..CAN mean that some will fall by the wayside and others will blossom.
      To me they just dont look at full strength.

      • I quite agree. SF is setting itself up for a fall in the north with so much emphasis on gaining a greater foothold amongst the southern electorate. Being in government in Dublin is the undoubted aim, making a mockery of the border and accelerating the process of reunification. But at what cost at the ballot box?

        Its a gamble that may pay off, and has some long term strategy and principle to it. But the SF team in the north is all but invisible outside of the regular handful of faces. Councillors and activists are dropping away in a slow but steady drumbeat. Over-centralised control is stifling innovation and debate. And the very actions that they think will give them the ultimate prize may in fact be undermining its possible achievement.

        One gets the impression, perhaps unfairly, that there is no point of principle that would make SF walk away from government at Stormont. There is some hardball to be played with the Unionist parties, DUP, Alliance, UUP, etc. but SF has baulked at doing so.

        Step forward the SDLP?

      • Id not claim anything other than SDLP is “in the game” and resist the temptation to talk it up. Youre suggesting if I read you right that there is some doubt in SFs “hard core” vote……you could be right. The only people I can really access in numbers is Sfs “soft” vote

  3. Never, ever forget that the gain SF got from the SDLP is a relatively recent thing and never forget that much of the reason that it happened is now history because SF are nothing more than the DUP’s lapdog.

    SF had no heart in the recent motion to cesure Nelson Mc Causland, as the 3 day delay in them getting on board with the SDLP testifies. Maybe the political arthritis SF is suffering from meant it took all that time for them to get off their knees?

    This summer, the DUP returned to old form, siding with loyalists of every ilk (see? I can do subtle) in a completely inflammatory act of aggression towards the Catholic community, armed with lies and disingenuous nonsense that was easily disproved. Despite it being a SF party member’s video that caught unionists out, SF were well behind the pack n reacting and mucked the whole thing up to the point that Gerry Kelly and Frank Dempsey threw loyalists more than a couple of bones.

    I was one of the many people that inundated the BBC with links to JJ Magee’s video and it was Aldan Maginnes who immediately came to the fore.

    This has been a most telling year for SF, with the state and unionism writing the script for what should have been the downfall for SF. It all started, as I recall, with the issue of prisoners and pardons. Not only were the SDLP ahead of the game, so too were politicians from down south. We then had, as FJH said, the Girdwood issue. SF tried to point out Alban’s participaton in the infamous photoshoot but one did not exactly have to be Derren Brown to read Alban’s body language in the picture. Full kudos to Dolores Kelly for, yet again, rising to the challenge and taking on the SF pee poor black propaganda. Then we had the marching, see above, and unionist poltician’s defence for what happened, including excusing 3 days of rioting.

    Now, here comes the big one. Those of us unfamiliar with a petition of concern had that corrected with the Mc Causland censure motion. Over on much is made of SF implementing government policy in the North whilst opposing it in the South. Much of it is nonsense but when it came to the Wellfare Bill, how could one argue? Even Captain Naturalist, Sammy Wilson (who believes in the right to public nudity but not global warmng. Odd) said that SF should go for the petition but they didn’t. Instead they, the supposed socialist party, came off with some nonsense about bashing things out.

    On a general not, SF refuse to take a seat n Parliament, something that recognises the undeniable reality that we are British citizens, but sits in a parliament that recognises the unionist architecture of the Northern Ireland statelet.

    Not only has Margaret Ritchie taken on loyalists paramlitares in the above case, she has (unlike SF) taken them on before. The leadership role didn’t suit her (No big deal. Look at how that worked out for Gordon Brown 🙂 ) but she shines in every other role. Where is the evidence for her assertion about Robinson? I would assert it’s in the fury of Dodd’s reaction.

    The DUP are to be opposed, not worked with! The SDLP get that, SF don’t.

    • Id agree….and to take on role of Devils advocate here..the SDLP MIGHT be accused of opportunism. But basically they need to seize opportunities.

      • Depends on the tone they take. SF are very, very good at keeping to a calm tone and letting others rant. It’s a brilliant tactic and one that the SDLP, as well as everyone else, have fell for.

        We’ve both mentioned various high profile situations were SF were seriously lacking and they need no further emphasis, and certainly not the trademark bitching that the SDLP have resorted to in recent times, to speak to the electorate.

        As for opportunism, politics is about presenting yourself as the party for the time. Were it not for that, may as well go for a one party state.

  4. Séamus, could not agree more but a cursory read over SF threads on shows that they’re sussed. Southerners have an eye, of vastly varying concdentration, on the party in the North. Much of their core, working class inner city folk, are also republicans who have always had an eye on matters “Ulster” and (like those here) are having their loyalty tested.

    The David Black funeral situation showed the nonsense of the SF unionist outreach programme. The foolishness of the men who organised the Enniskillen massacre is as faulty as the outreach of the sectarian loyalist killer supporters of the DUP outreach to nationalists.

    In NI politics, memory is a bugger

    • It seems that both DUP & SF are bluffing their own voters. Something has to give.

      • Agree with you both. SF may have stopped the drift to éirígí by some members but many more are simply opting out of politics altogether. There is a real feeling of disillusionment in some circles. A feeling that things in the north-east of the country should be far better, in Republican/Nationalist terms, than they are.

        SF is increasingly perceived to be ineffective in driving forward a progressive Republican agenda. Yes, they can run the regional administration with their DUP “partners” all well and good but where is a “United Ireland by 2016” or anything even close to it?

        As sad as it may be “communal politics” is where it’s at. And SF is increasingly looking like the poor relations to the DUP.

        If the party can’t even get something as important as an Irish Language Act, or better still an Official LANGUAGES Act in place after a decade of politicking then what is the point of the Stormont arrangement?

        That view is just as common in SF’s core southern vote as the larger northern one.

      • I think their supporters make the mistake of thinking that there was an inevitability in their “rise….and rise…..and rise”, picking me up initially in 1993 (emphasising personal not principle) but on principle from say 1998 to 2009.
        I certainly detect a disenchantment with the ex-prisoner community. They wont have anything to do with dissidents………..nor with SF careerists. I tend to think of them as “Old IRA” who would want nothing to do with a “New IRA” (1950s version) or Fianna Fáil.
        Sinn Féin DID have some poll reversals before but I am not sure they are really able to deal with (say) losing a few seats.

  5. Well, all those DLA forms and housing forms SF footsoldiers helpfully filled out over the years that built up their base mean sod all when they let the tory Welfare policy run free.

    Funny how things turn out in the post struggle silence. Mugabe is worse than the whites, the ANC use Apartheid legislation to prosecute innocent strikers, Ang San Suu Kyi is flippin’ sectarian and the socialist SF implement tory policy.

    I couldn’t be more shocked if it turned out that Al Jolson was black in the first place.

  6. Funny you mention ex prisoners FJH, I was at a big famlily do on Sunday. I was talking to my brother, an ex prisoner and his wife, the sister of a SF rep who recently left. Now, my brother would have nothing to do with PIRA or SF even when he was inside and not since but his wife did. Like every former prisoner or republican that I know, they feel disenfanchised. No one I know would even glance towards the dissident fools, and I know a few former “combatants”.

    Now, there is something in Derry, something that could/should be used pravance wide. Yeah, there’s the historical thing to the civil rights movement, something to be vastly proud off, but more recently, there was the Colm Eastwood incident. How strong was his message that republicans are from within us, our family, our friends, not to be spurned no matter what the opportunist pressure by unionists?

    IMHO, the IRA were not wrong to stand up to unionists and the British, they were wrong in the way they went about it.

    • LOL….I am 60. I am from West Belfast. I know a lot of …….ahem……ex-prisoners.
      Strange that I was actually at a funeral of a dissident a few months ago..basically I regarded him as an ex-neighbour.
      Thats just how it was.

  7. Ya dissident git!!! 🙂 I could name a fairly well known journo who’s brother is an infamous republican militant. Fortunately, no one has made the connection.

    Oddly, their father was a decorated RUC officer. That’s NI for ya!

  8. factual says:

    There is a lot of presumption and wishful thinking here. In all the recent elections up there north of the border, SF has grown at the expense of SDLP. The SDLP generally declining. There is no electoral evidence this will change.

    • That is without doubt the most stupid comment I will ever read.
      There is only ELECTORAL evidence when there is an ELECTION.
      So the last elections were Westminster 2010 and ASsembly 2011, so rather obviously the last electoral evidence was from then.
      There was no Assembly from 1982 thru to 1998 but if you take a look at the Westminster stats from the yaers Sinn Féin has been in business (1983 onwards) you will note that in 1983 SF scored 13.4% of the vote.
      In 1984 there was no “electoral evidence” that it would drop to 11.4% at the next election (1987)
      In 1988 there was no electoral evidence that it would drop again to 10% in 1992.
      In 1993 there was no electoral evidence it would rise to 16% in 1997.
      But in those in-between years shrewd analysts might have spotted trends. Indeed in 1997 it was the first Westminster Election I switched my vote to SF.
      Therefore in 2012 I am entitled to look at what the atmosphere is.
      And to keep looking at it….until the next election. My impression of the mood may well change….often.

      • factual says:

        My point was not stupid. It sounds like wishful thinking. The SDLP resurgance has been predicted time and time again over recent elections and never happened. All I am saying is your opinion sounds like wishful thinking.

  9. factual says:

    ” In fairness a victim, especially an articulate one like Ann Travers will always come out of a confrontation will nearly always win. Her obvious bravery underscored by the fact that she is undergoing treatment for cancer (I wish her well).”

    Do you think it was really desirable for her to make an appearance? She was clearly a victim but we do have to move on and not rake over the past.

    • No……I was wrong in my last comment.
      This is the most stupid comment I will ever read…..until your next one.
      It is Ms Travers decision to make an appearance at the Justice Committee.
      If it did her good……and she is the best judge… should welcome it.
      Of course Sinn Féin WANT Reconciliation ….they just dont want to listen to Ann Travers.

  10. factual says:

    Very impressed by Mitchell McLaughlin’s reponse to Travers. Much better than the SDLP’s response.

  11. factual says:

    Watching the committee I see the SDLP man Bradley (probably thinking the camera was not on him) playing on his Ipad while Ann Travers was giving evidence #so much for the vitcims concern from the SDLP.

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