Introducing the SDLP spokespersons in a two hour presentation was an interesting innovation.
Normally re-shuffling the “front bench” would have been handled by a simple press release sent along to journalists in the cafeteria in Stormont. So at least two things of note here….taking this outside Stormont and into the community and the opportunity to introduce the new Assembly candidates to a wider audience and indeed to promote new faces within constituencies. This is a story to be covered by local newspapers in Armagh, Newry, Derry and Enniskillen.
And of course this is the first shot in the SDLPs Assembly Election campaign. Therefore we can expect Sinead Bradley, Margaret Anne McKillop and Richie McPhillips and others…still relatively unknown outside their local areas to feature in the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and News Letter as well as local TV programmes.
Involving the Party as a whole in the Presentation was a new innovation. “Party” is a very deliberate word. The extent that rank and file SDLP people can be involved outside their immediate local area is limited but over the past few years, there have been seminars on Health, Agriculture etc led by Spokespersons and necessarily a (say) Health Seminar will interest and involve SDLP people who are nurses, doctors, social workers or adminstrative staff in local hospitals…and by extension involves the BMA, Unison etc.
So this sense of “involvement” has been ongoing for some years but increasing in recent months. The Manifesto Launch in March will be a major conference and get-together in itself.
Necessarily these set-piece events…annual conferences, seminars etc are morale-boosting events in themselves. The “professionalism” at the heart of this cannot be overstated. It was by any measure a “Presentation” led by a recently retired senior journalist from BBC Norn Iron.
So the structure of the Presentation was carefully thought-thru….a speech by Party veteran Brid Rodgers….and then three of the newer faces….Claire Hanna (Finance), Daniel McCrossan (Infrastructure) and Nichola Mallon (Communities) took part in three ten-minute Q-A sessions.
Alex Attwood, described later by Colum Eastwood as the “current and future MLA for West Belfast” spoke about his constituency…the poverty, the lack of opportunity and investment. He was clearly enjoying a major SDLP event in his constituency.
And Colum Eastwood wound up the event in a set-piece speech that balanced Brid Rodgers talking about SDLP “history”. He talked about SDLP “future” and suggested a broader SDLP conversation before and after the Assembly Election.
The Cultúrlann…the venue …is in the heart of the Falls Road, only fifty metres from my grandparents family home from 1922 to their deaths in 1959 and 1961 and my aunt moving out in 1983.
A former Presbyterian Church , has been an Irish-language cultural centre for around thirty years. It is of course apolitical but in common with An Féile, community groups etc…Sinn Féin exercise a sense of entitlement.
To Sinn Féin…who have five of the six MLAs in West Belfast…the area is a one-party state. So interesting in itself, that SDLP hold an event there. There WILL be more.
Of course, there is no reason why West Belfast should be a “no go” area for SDLP so around 150 activists on the Falls Road should be no surprise to anyone.
I dont know how Andersonstown News journalist, “Squinter” feels about all this. Earlier this week he wondered if SDLP twitterati were becoming more “aggressive”. What will he make of all this? Maybe Squinter has built himself a bunker and is stocking it with tins of spaghetti hoops and condensed milk.