Colum Eastwood …New SDLP Leader

I blogged this on 5th November.

“There are three groups in SDLP. One supporting Alasdair and one supporting Colum….but dont ignore a large body of opinion that this contest (for two different reasons) should not be taking place.”

Dare I say I might have been right. Colum Eastwood won the Leadership. Fearghal McKinney won the Deputy Leadership. What else really explains the seeming contrfadictory results.

I suggest a few things.
1…most people think that the SDLP Leader should be in Stormont, not Westminster.
2 ..most people assumed that the best option for Leader was Colum Eastwood.
3…but once he had declared to stand, Colum HAD to win. He would only have one chance.
4…the Party did not want to consider more damaging elections provoked by an “anyone but Alasdair” faction.
5 …more than anyone Colum is representative of the McDonnell legacy.
6..Yet, Fearghal’s victory will surprise some outside SDLP but he has been loyal to Alasdair as a defacto Chief ofStaff. Again he preserves the McDonnell legacy.
7 The Party does not like factions. Neither Eastwood or McKinney owe their election to a “faction”. This was a victory for the Party.

I think it is the best possible ticket…there is balance. More so it is the best combination for uniting the Party.
A curious thing in a way. But I was not the only one to observe body language which seemed contradictory and the only reasonable explanation was that the candidates and their entourages were getting mixed signals.
The young “payroll professionals” appear to have over-reached themselves.

Yes…thats the best possible result.

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How To Explain SDLP….People Like Sarah

I saw this yesterday. I thought it was interesting. A feature of SDLP Conferences is the election of people to positions in the Party. It is not all about Leadership and famous faces that you see on TV.
A lot of it is about people dipping their toe in the water for the first time.
I will read a lot about SDLP this weekend and I wont like a lot of it. It will be written by Mick Fealty, Alan Meban and David McCann…people who regard politics as a spectator sport…not something you actually DO. Watching Politics is a bit like watching Football, Rugby and Camogie. No Balls are required.

So luckily there are people who think Politics is about real people and real issues. And not just headline issues. So this little biography is interesting, not least because it references Dominic Bradley MLA….who is stepping down from electoral politics. Dominic was never a headline grabber but a very effective backbencher. His Autism Bill is a good legacy to leave. No Drama…just Decency.

And probably fair to say that his example has brought people into SDLP. Another legacy…Justin McNulty and now Sarah Devlin who met Dominic thru his work on Autism.
The thing is if you get involved in one campaign, you tend to find yourself involved in other campaigns. It is not always easy standing up for yourself. There was a time when I considered myself too “shy” to advocate for myself. But sometimes I was forced to stand up….for my mother in an old folks home and sons at school or whatever.
And it becomes easier. Maybe thats what SDLP is all about. Finding a voice for our own and then using that voice for others, who we dont know.
Whatever the internal divisions that you can read about on Slugger O’Toole, this is a point that wont be covered by Mick, Alan and David.
Theres nothing headline-grabbing about Sarah. Just political reality….and if you are involved in Politics (any Party), you will “get” it. If you merely watch Politics and sneer, then you wont “get” it.
Oddly Sarah begins her manifesto by thanking people for reading it.
The strange thing is…it is exactly the kinda thing SDLP members will want to read.

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SDLP …Two Parties For The Price Of One (dont take this seriously)

I am not entirely sure if I paid my 2015 membership fee to SDLP. I hope I did because I am really getting my money’s worth….two Parties for the price of one.

It is not entirely about Leadership contest. Rather it is about the way that there are two slates of candidates for Party offices and Executive positions. Of course,  there is always a degree of horse-trading. “Vote for our guy from Dungannon and our branch will vote for your woman from Oldpark”. No big deal.

This year is different. It is not so much about personal friendships as two recognisable camps. It is happening on the blind side of the Leadership. In the past, the horse-trading is almost spontaneous but this is organised…the average branch member doesnt know anything about Paddy Murphy from Slieve Gullion or Patricia Murphy from Strabane….but as the runners and riders for Ececutive positions are scrutinised at branch meetings in the month before Conference, it is a reasonable bet that someone from the (say) “progressive” wing of the Party endorsing Paddy or Patricia will be endorsing a fellow progressive.

At the risk of this post sounding too serious, I am not sure of I should be worried. At one level, the mutual endorsements are so transparent that any sensible person can only laugh.

What does worry me a bit is the rise and rise of younger “payroll staffers” who are promoting their own careers as much as the careers of their bosses. Long serving councillors have seen their positions usurped and rank and file members sidelined.

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Show Trials…And Show Arrests

In Norn Iron, we have gone one step better than Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. They merely had Show TRIALS. We are much more civilized. We have Show ARRESTS.

And like the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, it is all faithfully recorded by the Camera.

Basically what happens is that ex-republican or loyalist paramilitaries or ex-British soldiers are arrested and taken to a police station. They are questioned for a few days about a serious crime which could have occurred up to four decades ago. TV Journalists report live from outside the police station. And then…the suspect is released without charge.

It is a familiar pattern.

But lets be honest….few paramilitaries or security force personnel will ever be charged….and nobody is going to jail. Thats how it is. Neither Sinn Féin, loyalist groups or the British Governments “Norn Iron Office” would accept any situation where one of their own ends up in jail.

It is yet another hoax on Victims. It just wont happen.

There is….Sinn Féin tell us …no hierarchy of victims. Actually they are right, all are treated badly. No doubt the families of victims, who themselves fought for causes…republican, loyalist or British and who were committed understand that it is all part of the big picture…the Peace Process. But those families who were not so committed are also being asked to pay the same price. Injustice.

People and the organisations may have a right to waive their own right to Justice. They dont have the right to waive  the rights of others.

Yet as an occasional man in his 60s is brought to a police station, hopes are raised. And sink with the “released without charge”. The Public know it is a farce so why do PSNI and Prosecution Services persist with it. Who is being conned?

To leave aside the political considerations that all participants in the Conflict have been given assurances that nobody is going to jail, there are the very pragmatic concerns that would be siezed upon by any half-competent defence lawyer.

1….”the charges against my client are politically motivated”

2….”key witnesses are dead”

3….”evidence has been lost”

4 ….”evidence has been tampered with”

5…..”forensics in 1972 were not of todays standards”

6…..”my client is 66 years old and suffering from an early onset of dementia….”

We are conned on a daily basis and thats bad. But conning ourselves is worse.

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Stormont Remembrance…Cunning Stunts

What would Bloggers do without Poppy Season? The annual commemoration of stories that define Norn Iron in all its crap-ness.

So the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance and Silence. And the Hall at Stormont. A short service.

For the first time, the Speaker of the Assembly is a nationalist…Mitchel McLaughlin and he and his panel of Deputy Speakers (one from each of the other parties) lay wreaths.

image image

All very dignified. Especially as Sinn Féin and SDLP MLAs were in attendance, giving the event an air of cross-community. Taking it away from its Britishness. After all, we have Parity of Esteem…we are British and/or Irish and just about every other identity we choose.

And of course, we have all that “age will not weary them” stuff. Solemnly “we will remember them….we will remember them”. And Silence.

And…GOD Save The Queen. …the British anthem, started (he claims) by a Press Officer from the small Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party.

Not exactly cross-community after all. An ambush on nationalist politicians. Because it wasnt on the Order of Service.

So what is the reaction?

Well nationalist politicians such as Caral Ní Chualain (Sinn Féin) and Alban Magennis (SDLP) are disappointed that the generosity shown by nationalists to outreach to unionists was thrown back in their faces. David Ford (Alliance) is irritated that the spirit of the service was not observed by unionists.

But Peter Weir (DUP), one of the more sophisticated of DUP notes that “GOD Save The Queen” is a fundamental part of such services.

As always Mike Nesbitt (UUP Leader) talks out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. The ambush was regrettable but the British Anthem should have been on the Order of Service.

Is this Parity of Esteem? Hardly. Have we all been sold a pup with Parity of Esteem because when all is said and done, Britishness trumps Irishness.

But LetsGetAlongerists invite us to believe that these events can or should be a “shared” experience.

But the unionists dont seem to want to “share” Remembrance. The message to nationalists is if you show up to these events, you will do so on British and unionist terms.

But there is another unsubtle message. DUP and TUV ambushed nationalists. It was a win-win situation. They were treated to the spectacle of nationalists (and Martin McGuinness) standing while GOD Save The Queen. And SF and SDLP politicians walking out would have been just as much a “victory”. It will play well for DUP and TUV at the upcoming election.

But does that mean McGuinness and Sinn Féin are losers? Well…not quite. Sinn Féin can play both the “dignity” card on the canvassing trail. And they can play the “outrage” card.

Thats how DUP and Sinn Féin do things.

Thats how Norn Iron works.

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Poppy And Rugby

i have only ever been to three rugby matches. The first was in the winter of 1970-1971 at Maynard Sinclair Pavillionat Stormont. Civil Service “Fourths” or “Fifths” were playing. They were an unlikely sports team, drawn from civil service departments like Agriculture, Health and Home Affairs.

An unlikely mix of ages…youngsters just out of school and men in their late forties. I can never really forget one of the prop forwards….do you notice how prop forwards LOOK like prop forwards. Physically with their bullet, balding heads and strange shoulders, they just look like prop forwards….and the Civil Service loose head prop that frosty Saturday morning was straight out of “central casting” huffing and puffing as he chased the ball and resisting a heart attack….as he had done every Saturday morning for thirty years. No doubt he had played at schoolboy level and maybe even had made the Civil Service “Firsts” and here he was doing his bit for the club as he approached his fiftieth birthday.

And an unlikely mix of civil servants….across the range of newbies starting a career as a Clerical Ssistant in the mail room or Principals at thetop of their careers advising Stormont ministers.

So what took me …a 18 year old from Ballymurphy to the other end of the city to see an unlikelyrugby match. Well my best friend, a year older was playing on the left wing “Come On Service”. Even more unlikely as he had never played rugby at school and joined the civil service and ots rugby team. He was a year older than me. Same Catholic Grammar school…and heres the thing, he came from Divis Flats…even lower on the social ladder than me.

But he had joined the Civil Service…and unlike me….he did his bestto distance himself from his roots. It started in 1970-1971. It seemed amusing then but in later years , it would grate on me….he joined the Alliance Party and never missed a day at Stormont, even on the mornings after the worst violence, casually stepping around fully deployed British Paras on the Divis balconies. Other people of his age, with long shaggy hair and denim would have been harassed by the Brits…but he just casually glided by with his  suit and rolled up umbrella.

I digress. That morning was my first rugby match. And that afternoon was my second match. For I went with my friend and his girlfriend (a Protestant girl from Belmont) to Ravenhill Road to see Ukster play Munster in an inter-provincial game.

I actually felt more empathy with Munster…good Catholic boys than the Ulster team. GOD, it was bloody cold that day…and I was freezing in my cheap working class anorak and the real rugby supporters were fully dressed in their sheepskin coats and those club scarves from CIYMS, Queens University, Malone and the rest. They were oddly patronising to the Munster team, who despite international Fightin’ Phil O’Callaghan were well beaten by Ulster.

My third and final rugby match was at Lansdowne Road (mid 1970s) watching Ireland and New Zealand and my first close up experience of West Britons…not all that different from their Ravenhill counterparts. Rugby was a game that united the middle class professionals of Belfast, Dublin and Cork….with a nod to a more egalitarian attitude in Limerick.

For Ireland in the 1970s, Rugby was still a “garrison” sport, an attitude going back to the mid 19th century…the sport of the British officers and played at the best fee-paying schools (including Catholic ones in Dublin, Cork and Limerick). But it had no link to northern nationalists. So a curious mix of West Briton, “Ulster” and middle class professionals.

But it is a sport that has changed. First of all the Gaelic Athletic Association dropped its ban on foreign games (rugby, football, cricket and hockey) and this opened up a new demographic into rugby teams and rugby supporters.

BBC Norn Iron dropped its snubbing of the Irish National Anthem. It was a pre-match routine that a stage managed studio discussion in Belfast would take place in front of a big screen showing pictures of international pre- match ritual before the Presenter would say “….and now we can go over to Lansdowne Road in Dublin. It was petty and it was irritating.

The dilemna of Ulster unionists playing for “Ireland” was resolved…albeit by clumsy choreography. In Dublin, the Irish national anthem is played but it is followed by “Irelands Call” a specifically sporting and apolitical piece of music. At away matches in London, Paris, Cardiff etc, only “Irelands Call” is played and the Irish National Flag and Ulster (nine county) Flag is displayed.

And of course the big change in Rugby in the last twenty-five years is professionalism. Every ethos has given way to money and merchandising. And Rugby has necessarily expanded from four international matches, some inter-pros and low key club games….to World Cups, a minimum of ten internationals in a year, tours from and to the southern hemisphere….and a European leagues made up of highly professional teams from France, Italy, Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland (represented by Leinster, Connacht, Munster and ….Ulster) and the success of Irish teams plays in to the success of the national team.

indeed a decade ago, Ulster won the European Final in Dublin….a packed stadium of happy Ulster folks waving the Norn Iron Flag. Despite the fact that Ulster Rugby is organised on a nine county basis, it is of course dominated by Belfast clubs but the victory celebrations in Dublin took on the feel of a victory for Norn Iron (six Ulster counties) rather than Ulster (nine counties).

In fairness, the Ulster Rugby authorities seem to have addressed the issue. The TV coverage of European games, high quality competition, a growing Catholic professional and middle class as well as no conflict between “garrison games” and Gaelic sports has made going to Ulster matches good craic on a Friday night. Much more inclusive than my only experience forty five years ago.

Indeed the outreach is genuine. Rugby coaches visit my grandson’s Catholic school. Indeed limited integrated education and Catholic attendance at traditional “Protestant” schools like Methodist College, Belfast has produced a new demographic of future player.

It is still uncomfortable for an old dinosaur like me. This is a very pragmatic form of LetsGetLongerism…..and LetsGetAlongerism is always worrying.

But what can possibly go wrong? The …..Poppy Fascists!!!!

Last weekend English Premiership Football clubs wore a poppy emblem on their shirts….part of the annual creeping Poppyism.

And in European Rugby clubs did not…..and that seems reasonable. There can be no directive to be patriotic to Britain….why should this interest French, Italian or Irish clubs. No English or Scottish club wore such an emblem. But one Welsh club did ….and they had the misfortune to be playing Ulster and the Norn Iron Poppy Fetishists want an explanation of this insult.

To be fair Ulster Rugby is unapologetic.

The Branch represents nine counties, not six counties. It is Ulster NOT Norn Iron. There was no insult as only one European club did this last weekend. And perhaps more tellingly, the very gates at Ulster Rugby Stadium is a war memorial with its own service every year.

A defeat for the Poppy Fascists? I am not so sure. Despite outreach by Norn Iron Football and Ulster Rugby, these sports remain the only platform (with the four yearly Commonwealth Games) which gives the impression of a “national” sports team for the benefit of Unionists. To be more inclusive weakens the traditional identity of unionists.

With the Poppy Fascists on their case, there is every likelihood that Ulster Rugby will work on a way to placate them. Especially next year ….Somme Year.

Whatever happened Parity of Esteem?….a fundamental part of the Peace Process, which recognised the validity of both unionist and nationalist traditions. Has Parity of Esteem actually failed? For like FAUX LetsGetAlongerism, there is a bottom line ….we are all equal until it comes to the crunch and then Britishness will take precedence over Irishness.

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At The Going Down Of The Sun…I Dont Give A Tinkers Curse

When I was a child, I used to think that people wearing poppies were going to weddings.

Of course in the 1960s, there were a lot of sprightly 70year olds who had memories of World War One. But essentially the poppies were worn by our Protestant neighbours. Or members of the RUC. Or local newsreaders on TV. Whoever wore them…nothing to do with us.

The poppy is forever associated with the First World War….the Green Fields of France….war poets…mud and blood….Flanders …trenches….Lions led by Donkeys….and (latterly) Blackadder.

There are no survivors from WW1. Those veterans are all dead. The focus has long moved to WW2…all very noble of course. The downside is that those men who I knew as 45 year olds are now in their 80s. Their use as heroes is increasingly limited.

This is why James McClean is absolutely right.


James is a moderately successful Premiership footballer from Derry. He plays for the Republic of Ireland and that choice makes him unpopular with unionists and the usual suspects in LetsGetAlongerism and their search for a Norn Iron identity.

James has refused to wear a poppy on his shirt when he plays…including yesterday  playing for West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in front of 76,000 fans….who of course booed his every move. By any standards, his stance is brave. He has put his Irishness and his republicanism ahead of popularity. He is outspoken.

But he is right.

Poppy Day is not about WW1 and WW2… is about validating British militarism in Palestine, Aden, Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, the Malvinas and of course Norn Iron.

Something of an irony that when the Norn Iron conflict was at its worst in the 1970s, nobody in England really cared how many Soldiers were killed in North Belfast and South Armagh. An occupational hazard for young working class men who were not really considered employable.

Two things happened. One …John Major…the “everyman” Prime Minister from the early 1990s who worried that Remembrance Sunday was losing its place in British culture and he institutionalised a two minute silence at the eleventh hour on the eleventh month.

Coincidently on the first such occasion, I was working for three weeks on detachment in London. iT was 1992 or 1993. Either way, it was 11th November and it was a Saturday. I made the short bus ride to Covent Garden to see what would happen…..and frankly not very much happened. Some people did stop what they were doing. Most did not. It all seemed very uncomfortable.

But the second thing that happened was more wars….and especially since 2001, unpopular wars that were based on lies. The modern Remembrance Season starts earlier and the narrative of “our heroes” is more about providing cover for politicians. And Premiership Football, X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing…all play a part.

GOD help the X Factor singer who refuses to wear a poppy. GOD help James McClean.

And likewise in Norn Iron, who really served in the mainstream British Army in Malvinas and Afghanistan. The vast majority of posers standing around cenotaphs in Belfast, Lisburn and Portadown today parading their medals , served in the discredited RUC and UDR. Do I really give a damn about their “service”?

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