SDLP: The Campaign Begins

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.

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SDLP Spokespersons

Colum Eastwood re-shuffled his team of spokespersons today. This to reflect the retirement of Pat Ramsey and Joe Byrne and the co-option of Gerard Diver and Daniel McCrossan. With other MLAs Dominic Bradley, Alban Magennis and John Dallat also set to stand down, it is important that the Party have a new “team” in place before the Assembly elections. It will raise the profiles of lesser known people. These are the people you are likely to see on TV over the next few months


Health: Fearghal McKinney MLA, Sinead Bradley (South Down candidate)
Justice: Alex Attwood MLA
Finance: Claire Hanna MLA
Education: Dolores Kelly MLA, Cllr Colin McGrath (South Down candidate)
Communities: Cllr Nichola Mallon(Cllr Roisin Lynch (South Antrim candidate)
& Justin McNulty (Newry & Armagh candidate)
Economy: Patsy McGlone MLA, Gerard Diver MLA, & Connor Duncan (North Antrim)
Agriculture, Environment: Sean Rogers MLA, Cllr Margaret Anne McKillop (East Antrim candidate).
Infrastructure: Daniel McCrossan MLA & Cllr Richie McPhillips (Fermanagh-South Tyrone candidate)

Minister for Environment: Mark H Durkan MLA
Assembly Whip: Karen McKevitt MLA.

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The SDLP Twitterati

“Squinter” from the Andytown News is a man who speaks his mind in his column. Of course sometimes he is reminded by Sinn Féin what his mind should be.
So it seems a bit odd that a seasoned journalist would be putting out a tweet like this one.


I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Twitter.
In the early days of Internet, we used to have “flame wars” ….political arguments. Stupid waste of time. As you may know, I dont encourage “flame wars” here…and the best way to avoid problems is to encourage conversation/debate among like-minded people.
What is the point of Twitter?
I dont follow people I dont like. I see no point.

Twitter seems a good place for silliness and a bad place for politics.
Although I do have a Twitter account, I really dont care much for it all. It is a young persons medium.
I do not know if “Squinter” is a big fan of Twitter…but it is known that Sinn Féin supporters have used it to attack political opponents. …John Coyle, SDLP candidate in Fermanagh-South Tyrone last year and of course Mairia Cahill. Hard to think that “Squinter” is unaware of this.
Are SDLP twitterati becoming more aggressive of late?
i have certainly seen no evidence of it.
Nothing on the scale that John or Mairia suffered.
Maybe thats just how Sinn Féin trolls operate. There are one or two trolls who have shown up here….I think I might have a designated “troll” on average industrial wage from Connolly House.
They come…they go….they change their screen-name. Sometimes I publish their comments and sometimes I couldnt be arsed. They are too young to bother me.
It is easy enough to put a troll back in his box.
What “Squinter” (shrinking violet that he is) has probably noticed is a sense of purpose about SDLP. Assertive. And the trolls are on the look-out for soft targets….notably young women.

At the end of the day….the Sinn Féin trolls are a waste of space. I bet their daddys were touts.

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SDLP: The Case For Opposition

It is certainly possible to have a very academic debate in SDLP…should the Party play a role in the Norn Iron Executive. I could present a case either way.

But really it boils down to a single photograph. Earlier this week the “new” Executive met for the first time with Arlene Foster (DUP) as First Minister and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin) as Deputy First Minister. And behind them the two senior civil servants and behind them their Ministers….six DUP, four Sinn Féin, two Alliance and one SDLP (Mark H Durkan…Minister ffor Environment). ….Fifteen politicians around the Cabinet table and only one SDLP voice.


There is no real way that SDLP can influence Executive decisions. The smugness on the DUP and Sinn Féin faces show that this is a DUP-SF coalition propped up by the undemocrat Alliance Party.

There is no way that this can be claimed to be the wishes of the Electorate. SDLP voters (94,000) sent fourteen MLAs to STormont in 2011 and Alliance Party voters (52,000) sent MLAs to Stormont in 2011. The Alliance Party takes one of its two Executive seats  (Justice) as a gift from their masters in DUP and Sinn Féin.

SDLP should have walked away from this farce five years ago. There is…we are told…no place for Opposition within The power-sharing arrangements agreed on Good Friday 1998.But UUP entitled to one seat in the Cabinet Room have already walked some months ago.

There or may not be a place for Opposition. There is always a place for Dignity.

SDLP will produce a manifesto before the elections in May but it is only a wish list if there is no real way of implementing policy. Of course it is the role of a political party to seek a mandate but Colum Eastwood must make it clear that the mandate SDLP gets will be for Government or Opposition….not this farce.

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Stamps …1916-2016

So I picked up the “Easter” stamps in Dublin.

In strict terms there are two kinds of postage stamp. A “definitive” stamp is in everyday use, often for several years. A “commemorative” stamp is intended to mark a special person, event or theme and is generally only available (if at all) for a limited period.

My previous posts suggested that there was (almost) a media blackout on the “Easter” stamps. While it has been known for some weeks that the first issue in 2016 would be on 21st January, it was only last week that I learned it would be a “definitive” issue of sixteen stamps so I did not think it would be specific to 1916. The grapevine suggested that it WAS Easter but the failure of the online edition of the quarterly bulletin from An Post suggested an unusual degree of secrecy. Oddly the programme for the year was released and I have already blogged about this. The first issue would be Definitives themed for 1916. This is quite unusual…definitiives are usually more bland….Birds, Animals, Fauna. But the secrecy did worry me a little. Was there something controversial?

Well…no. While An Post marketing section have been very slow to advise nerds like myself, all information was already in giveaway calendars distributed in the GPO before Christmas ….so no conspiracy theory.

The thing about the issue of stamps to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion, Robert Emmet and Easter Rising is that it says as much about Ireland in 1948, 1998, 1953, 2003, 1941, 1966 and 2016 as it does about 1798, 1803 and 1916.

Last night, I was emailed a link to photographs of the stamps. sHould I have been concerned?

Well the Irish readers of this Blog are members of the pan-nationalist family. So your opinion is as valid as mine.

The fact that these are “definitive” stamps is in itself a very definitive (pun intended) statement. These stamps will be available in every post office for a long period of time, possibly beyond the end of the year. That will ensure a lot of use. And in producing sixteen designs, it makes Easter Rising a much more potent symbol of the Irish Nation than the single commemorative due to commemorate the Battle of the Somme in July.

There is no equal billing. The Somme is a dutiful footnote.

The sixteen stamps are printed thru computer terminals. Called , SOAR (Stamps on A Roll) the design at #1 will appear again as #17,#33 and so on until the end of the roll. For convenience, the Philatelic Shop in the GPO will sell them as strips of four, divided into four themes…the Leaders and Icons, the Participants, Easter Week and the Aftermath.


So the first strip features Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada and  Eamonn Ceannt on one stamp, Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh on the second stamp, James Connolly on the third stamp and the battle-scarred “Irish Republic” flag on the fourth stamp. It is stressed in the information I have received tha this does not show any prededence of any signatory of the Proclamation. It is intended to show the three organisations that led the Rising. …the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. I am not entirely convinced by this as Ceantt was also a Volunteer and all were IRB men. But this is a quibble rather than a major point.


Participants…it was always assumed that the Dublin Metropolitan Police would be honoured and that this would be controversial but effectively the decision to include James O’Brien, the constable who would be the first fatality of Easter Week is balanced by Captain Sean Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army on the same stamp. Captain Connolly shot and killed Constable O’Brien at Dublin Castle and was himself killed shortly afterwards at the City Hall. So this stamp is a major surprise.

Lt Michael Malone led the Volunteer unit at Mount Street Bridge which inflicted heavy casualties on the Sherwood Foresters. He was killed in this heroic action.  He shares a stamp with his brother William who was killed in Belgium in 1915 fighting with the Dublin Fusiliers.

Dr Katheen Lynn , an officer in the Irish Citizen Army was second in command to Captain Connolly at Dublin Castle/City Hall and took over the command when he was killed. She shares a stampwith Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell who served in the GPO and brought the messages of the surrender. Again it was always anticipated that the role of the “1916 Women” would be recognised and two worthy candidates.

The fourth stamp features Volunteers Jack Doyle and Tom McGrath. Representing the rank and file, it is an iconic photograph, one of only two known to have been taken inside the GPO during Easter Week.


The theme of third strip is the Week itself and appropriately the first stamp is the Proclamation itself. It was also known that Civilian casualties would be acknowledged and the child on the second stamp is Sean Foster, one of the youngest people to be killed during the Rising.Although most civilian casualties were inflicted thru British callousness or intent, I will not be looking up indices and internet to establish the precise circumstances. The only relevance is that he was a child…and one of the most innocent person to die.

Louisa Nolan was a civilian who attended to the wounded at Mount Street.Heroic of course and should it make a difference that ahe was awarded an honour by “King” George V.

The biggest surprise of the sixteen stamps is the final stamp in this strip. Most Irish people will be familiar with Francis Sheehy Skeffington, the pacifist, socialist and advocate of womens rights who was the highest profile civilian casualty. He was shot by an unofficial firing squad on the orders of Captain Bowen-Colthurst, who had lost control and was having completely innocent people in cold blood. But Sheehy-Skeffington shares the stamp with the British officer who reported the series of attrocities, Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane. In modern terms he was a whistleblower. The war criminal Bowen-Colthurst spent just over a year in a mental hospital before being released and Fletcher-Vane was dismissed from the British Army.


The theme of the fourth strip is the Aftermath of the Rising. The first stamp shows the burnt-out shell of the GPO. The second stamp shows children gathering firewood. The third stamp shows prisoners in detention. The final stamp is Roger Casement, the rebel agent who was hanged in London a few months after the Rising had collapsed. He had been arrested in County Kerry a few days before Easter Monday.

Am I happy? Yes…I think a story has been told thru the medium of stamps. The Easter 1916 story is a story that is worth telling. No need to compromise on the facts. The credit is due to Dr Fearghal McGarry of Queens University, Belfast and Lar Joye, who is still (I assume) at the National Military History Museum at Arbour Hill Museum.

Is anything missing here? Well, all people interested in the history of 1916 will know of the Forgotten Seven….Willie Pearse, Sean Heuston, Con Colbert, John McBride, Ned Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan and Michael Mallin who were executed but are not as well honoured as the signatories of the Proclamation. It would I think be unfair if they were overlooked for yet another generation. I think we owe them.

But I think there is scope to develop this theme, as started with sixteen stamps. I can certainly see supplementary issues during this year. But maybe we are seeing a pattern as to how the rest of the Decade will be commemorated….thinking at random, there are a lot of other names we will recognise over the next few years….Constance Markievicz, Cathal Brugha, Michael Collins, Terence McSwiney, Thomas MacCurtain, Kevin Barry.

There is still a lot of mileage in the Decade of Centenaries.

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Stamp Issuing Programme 2016

This is Ireland’s Stamp Programme for 2016. It is probably very provisional. For example, there is no mention of a stamp or stamps to commemorate the Olympic Games.

The new “definitive” (ie stamps issued for a prolonged period rather than stamps to mark special events will likely be 1916-2016 related. I have not yet seen photographs but they will be issued on Thursday.

21st January ….New Definitive Series 1916-2016 (16 stamps)
28th January….Irish Heart Foundation (1)
11th February….Love And Marriage (1)
25th February..St Patricks Day (1)
10th March ……Dogs (4)
7th April ………..Charles Gavan Duffy (1)
12th May………..Europa (2)
16th June………Wild Atlantic Way (4)
7th July…………Battle of the Somme (1)
18th August…..Irish Shop Fronts (4)
15th September…Cycling in Ireland (4)
6th October……Commissioner of Irish Lights (4)
3rd November..Christmas (3)

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SDLP Candidates: The Story So Far

All the pieces are coming together ahead of the 2016 Assembly Election. The selection of Patsy McGlone and Nichola Mallon tonight means there are only four (at most) constituencies to name a candidate(s).

So far:

Foyle: Colum Eastwood. Mark H Durkan. Gerard Diver.

South Belfast: Fearghal McKinney. Claire Hanna.

Upper Bann: Dolores Kelly.

South Antrim: Roisin Lynch.

East Antrim: Margaret Anne McKillop.

North Antrim: Connor Duncan.

South Down: Sean Rogers. Colin McGrath. Sinead Challinor.

Armagh-Newry: Karen McKevitt. Justin McNulty.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Richie McPhillips.

West Tyrone: Danie Wray McCrossan.

Mid Ulster: Patsy McGlone.

North Belfast: Nichola Mallon.

Lagan Valley: Pat Catney.

Strangford: Joe Boyle and/or Terry Andrews***

East Derry: not yet decided (as far as I know) but likely to be two candidates …possibly both women.

West Belfast: not yet decided (as far as I know) and that might mean a surprise.

East Belfast: obviously not a natural SDLP stronghold and while I have a hunch, it would be unfair to say.

North Down: same situation. Unfair to name my hunch.

***Strangford ….the SDLP Annual Report at Conference named both Joe and Terry. But my understanding is that only one will be on paper.



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