A bad week……but what exactly happened?
Belfast City Council meet to debate the Big Flag…..the British one which flies over the City Hall. Belfast is no linger a unionist citadel.
There are fifty councillors. Sinn Féin have sixteen. SDLP eight. So nationalists have twenty four seats.
DUP have fifteen. UUP (what a pathetic rump they are) have three. PUP have two. So unionists have twenty seats.
Alliance which calls itself “middle of the road” has six seats.
The nationalists prematurely in my view want to remove the British Flag. That is what nationalists do. I dont see why they cant just wait until they have twenty six seats. They are backed by some kinda “Equality” Report which suggests that the Flag is a tad over-used.
Alliance…..and I am not totally sure why…suggest a compromise. Fly the British flag on seventeen designated days such as Mrs Windsor’s birthday, Phil’s birthday and er a lot of other birthdays.
Sinn Féin and SDLP support the Alliance motion and it passes 29-21. It is all a bit heated. Protestors outside (loyalists) start a riot. And it gets worse on Tuesday. Worse on Wednesday. An Alliance Party office in Carrickfergus is burned. Attempts are made to burn another in Bangor. And the home of an Alliance couple in Bangor is attacked.
So what exactly went wrong. Im a nationalist and a republican and it will be a joyous day when the Butchers Apron is taken down from the mast for the final time……..of course as a responsible civilised person I must pretend that I would never use such a phrase. Yet Equality Report or not …..it seems premature.
Why exactly did the Alliance Party get mixed up in it. It was a reasonable proposal but were they actually a bit surprised that Sinn Féin readily went for it. Did Alliance fall into a republican trap? If SF had simply insisted on their own (and SDLPs motion) it would have got at most 24 votes. Alliance would have voted with unionists to defeat it.
Certainly if I was a SDLP member of Belfast City Council, I would have taken the Alliance Party’s hand off to get that motion. It was definitely a nationalist/republican victory.
And did unionists……especially the DUP set a second trap for Alliance? Four of the six Alliance councillors are based in East Belfast. Did DUP have one eye on discrediting Alliance ahead of the next set of elections. They are still peeved at losing the Westminster seat to Naomi Long and ironically the star performer of the night was the Lord mayor……Gavin Robinson…who will be favourite to be DUP candidate. Is that what all these anti-Alliance leaflets handed out in (mostly) East Belfast were all about? All the venom in the debate was directed at the Alliance benches and the placards outside “Traitors!” were hardly aimed at Sinn Féin or SDLP.
And curiously everyone at home following the debate on “stream” and the debate on Twitter knew that there was a Plan B……flying the British Flag all year round at the Cenotaph. So why wasnt this Plan B made into Plan A. Alliance would have come out of the debate better.
Simply put Alliance got their tactics wrong. Of course they probably counted on the fact that the loyalist mob was controlled and that the Alliance usually….but not always gets a bye-ball…because of their perceived non-sectarian credentials. I don’t think they properly factored in the over-reaction and the violence. I dont think many did.
It is all very well saying “we will not be intimidated” but if a decision ws in my hands ….that I thought would result in vicious, nasty, fascist attacks on my Party….I am sure I would think long and hard. I dont see that as necessarily giving into imtimidation. But I do see it in the context of thinking things thru.
The PSNI…..lip service will be paid to their fortitude etc but it looks like they got it wrong also. There simply wasn’t enough of them. In a seperate blog, I have indicated that there is political policing going on…….NOT necessarily in the context of republicans versus loyalists…….but I believe in the context of propping up the increasing sham that is Stormont.
Alliance are of course entitled to use the wave of sympathy from decent people. Indeed, tonight there are reports that a former UUP Press Officer, David Simms (Sims?) has defected to Alliance Party. Actually the UUP will be the biggest losers out of this. The performance at City Hall was bad enough but Mike Nesbitt is not exactly stellar.
So two things. Alliance wants a “recall” of Stormont but is only backed by SDLP andGreem……….and shamefully just two from UUP, the usual semi detached Basil McCrea and John McCallister. David Ford, visibly shaken I thought….deserved better. Late in the day DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to a recall on a motion that Ford seemed to describe as nearly like his own.
That looks shabby. Clearly without Sinn Féin and DUP, Alliance could not get the required thirty signatures and basically had to accept the DUP/SF motion. But where on earth were the UUP? The unfortunate thing for Alliance is that the debate will be basically controlled by DUP and Sinn Féin.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness……have they been seen in public? I dont think so. Robbo’s statement is frankly mealy-mouthed. And it does not dispel the feeling that Ford is merely a creature of DUP/SF despite his insistence that Stephen Farry has a mandate from the electorate and he (Ford) has a mandate from the Assembly.
On UTV tonight, Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin) was competent enough and Stephen Farry shell-shocked. Edwin Poots (DUP) was awful. Mike Nesbitt was worse. Conall McDevitt was very good. I think he edited himself. Of course as a SDLP member, I suppose I would say that anyway.
But actually SDLP had a good day. Quickly signed up to the Alliance “recall” motion. Alasdair visited Stewart Dickson in Carrickfergus. And might actually prove a better friend to Alliance than Alliance has been to SDLP in recent years.
UUP will bleed votes to Alliance. But SDLP wont be losing sleep. Just look at the plain fact that these Alliance offices are all within about 13 miles from Belfast. ………Newtownards, Bangor, Lisburn, Antrim, Carrickfergus.