Previewing An Feile programme last week on Slugger O’Toole, Alan Meban noted that the “SDLP is back”. Well, I am tempted to say that we havent gone away ya know…although GOD knows Slugger would like that. But I think Alan is wrong.
As you will see from the small insertion (page 33) in An Feile brochure, the Gerry Conlon Memorial Lecture does not carry any indication that this is a specifically SDLP event.
I have always defended An Feile against the charge that it is little more than a “Provo front” But increasingly West Belfast, thru the wall murals, community organisation, An Feile etc, is virtually a one party state.
For my American friends, I should point out that the Westminster MP is from Sinn Féin. Five of the six members of the Stormont Assembly are from Sinn Féin (Alex Attwood from SDLP is the sixth) and Sinn Féin hold the lions share of Belfast City Council seats in West Belfast wards.
The showpiece event of An Féile is “West Belfast Talks Back”. It is a panel event featuring representatives of political parties. Sinn Féin is quite properly represented but SDLP is never invited.
This year, the panel is made up of a Sinn Féin councillor, Gavin Robinson MP (DUP East Belfast), Julie Ann Corr (PUP Councillor) and Jeremy Corbyn MP who is from London,a British Labour Party Leadership candidate.
Its hard to see that this is not a calculated snub to both SDLP and Gerry Carroll, the People Before Profit councillor, who is making an impact in West Belfast. Frankly real or imagined threats to Sinn Féin dominance in West Belfast are not tolerated. And Sinn Féin seem further intent on marginalising SDLP. DUP and PUP are not a serious threat and SF can appear inclusive sharing a platform with unionists.
Events at An Feile have a routine. A few words of welcome from one of the organising committee. So two years ago in 2013, we had the spectacle of (then) Director, Danny Morrison introducing a SDLP event. Morrison is a former Chief Press Officer, “a journalist and author” (we are ALL journalists and authors Danny) and notoriously dismissive of SDLP.
The 2013 “SDLP” event featured a panel discussion on Victims. It featured Catherine McCartney whose brother was murdered by people close to the IRA and Breege Quinn whose son was murdered by people close to the IRA. Both murders occurred since the Good Friday Agreement. During this discussion, Danny Morrison had the sense to sit in sullen silence on the front row….his big hat possibly hiding any embarrassment.
SDLP members present considered it a success. My blog on the event can be found in my August 2013 archive.
Yet there was no “SDLP” event in 2014.
There are two answers. According to SDLP sources, they were informed by An Feile organisers that An Feile would not host an event organised by a political party.
But according to An Feile source, SDLP did not submit a proposal.
I know who I am inclined to believe.
Just take a look at the 2014 programme and note the event where Gerry Adams unveils a memorial to Bobby Sands in the Felons Club.
Or just look at the pics in the brochure…isnt that Spike Murray of Sinn Féin at the top of the page. Arent Martin McGuinness, Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison all on An Feile programme.
Of course apologists for Sinn Féin will point out these “SF” events are one step removed from the political party. They are organised by ex-prisoners, residents groups etc but clearly the fingerprints of Sinn Féin are all over these events.
In January this year (see my blog archive), the first Gerry Conlon Memorial Lecture was held. There was,..I emphasise…no SDLP signage and no reference made to SDLP during the event. It was chaired by Alex Attwood MLA and featured Michael Mansfield QC and Paddy Hill a member of the Birmingham Six.
Gerry Conlon was of course apolitical but SDLP seem to have earned the right to adopt Gerry and his legacy. Certainly his family was in attendance in January.
So An Féile 2015 and the second Gerry Conlon Memorial Lecture in seven months and it is an “SDLP” event. Clearly, this is a good move on SDLP part and effectively the third successive event, where SDLP has challenged the Sinn Féin record on Justice.
The Organisers of the Gerry Conlon Memorial Lecture (tomorrow evening in St Marys University College) are as different from SDLP as the ex-Prisoner Committees are distinct from Sinn Féin.
The keynote Speaker is Mairia Cahill the young woman who has challenged Sinn Féin on her treatment when she accused a senior member of Rape and more senior members of a cover-up. Suffice to say that her allegations, bravery and demeanour rattled Sinn Féin….not least the reaction of some of Sinn Féins over-hyped and over-promoted women.
So tomorrows lecture is going to be interesting.
As I recall, Mairia Cahill was a volunteer with An Féile and my first thought is who from An Féiles Organising Committee will make the welcoming speech.
The other Speakers will be interesting. At this point, I do not know who is on the panel. Certainly, Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International’s local franchise, did not cover himself in glory in January.
Certainly, there is a wider pattern, where women and children were routinely abused by all sides during the Troubles. Kincora, for example.
Just how “Republicans” react to the Lecture…thats interesting. Certainly there will be some embarrassment that a well rehearsed narrative of West Belfast solidarity with the “Republican Movement” will be undermined …even if its only for an hour and a half.
Sinn Féin would certainly prefer the narrative of brave women in Armagh Gaol in the 1970s. One other Féile event is “The Sisterhood” where ex-Prisoners talk about their experiences.
These days, there is little to fear from the “Republican Movement” in terms of kneecaps being shot off. Thats so ….20th Century. The biggest threat in 2015 is likely to be a warning from a solicitor. In my experience, very few solicitors earn as little as the “average industrial wage” earned by prominent “Republicans”.