Friday, 12 June 2009

A perfect storm

IT’S a cliché oft-trotted out by pundits when they say something was a ‘perfect storm’. The meteorological term refers to what happens when two enormous storms collide creating devastating and deadly weather conditions.

This past week the DUP arguably faced its own perfect storm…of political hail. While their nemesis, the TUV’s Jim Allister was turning defeat into an art form!

When worlds collide

THE perfect political storm is never usually associated with the European elections. Usually a relatively sedate sectarian headcount, this time we had: (in no political order) the ongoing Daily Telegraph parliamentary expenses scandal; the First Minister’s food bill ruckus; the horrible BBC NI Politics Show DUP/TUV debacle; the TUV ‘TV won’t interview us’ whine; and voter disillusionment.

And, when faced with endless political stories, headlines, informed and misinformed debate what does your average voter do? That would be the “stay away” from the polling stations.

There was much debate about the reasons for the exceptionally low voter turnout locally. Some pointed to fact that there wasn’t the same urgency to vote as in previous elections, the constitutional question having been settled… for the time being. Others pointed to the fact that voters were turned off by the political sleaze associated with the MPs expenses row.

But a more realistic interpretation is there for all to see. The Cowell reality TV generation was locked watching The Apprentice and couldn’t be bothered with reality over reality TV.

We’re all doomed (part 1)

ACCORDING to a certain political party (that would be the DUP) if Sinn Féin topped the poll we’d all be doomed…several days after the poll the world hasn’t fallen down and the border hasn’t been erased from the map.

But hold on a minute…I get it now. They weren’t saying that we’d be doomed to a quick march into merger with the Republic. The DUP were saying that unless they topped the poll, we’d all be doomed to listening about how they are listening to the voters, doomed to listening to political correspondents micro-analysing each and every ward vote, doomed to listening to…well you get the picture.

We’re all doomed (part 2)

DON’T panic it’s only a pandemic! The WHO has finally declared the Swine Flu epidemic as a pandemic. Reassurances were swiftly issued by local Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, the BBC, UTV, and a bloke in the pub who said that those with the virus were just a bunch of whingers with a heavy cold.

The hokey cokey

PUT your right arm in, pull your right arm out, do the hokey cokey… Poll-topper Bairbre de Brún must have felt like she was in a weird version of the playground game at Monday’s European election count in Belfast’s Kings Hall.

She congratulated Jim Nicholson with a handshake, but when she put her hand out to the DUP’s Diane Dodds, the newly elected MEP steadfastly refused to shake the proffered digits of Ms de Brún.

Mrs Dodds said the DUP wasn’t there to be “best buddies with anybody”.
Mission achieved then Diane!


THE art of politics is sometimes to deflect attention from one’s own woes. It would be a petty person who would suggest that the review of Civil Service bonuses announced by Finance Minister Nigel Dodds was in any way an attempt to deflect attention from the MPs’ expenses ‘row’.

But in this climate it was perhaps not best judged for any politician to issue a statement saying they wanted to see ‘fairness’.

Has the old lion still got his roar?

WITH TUV leader Jim Allister announcing he plans to stand in the North Antrim constituency at the next Westminster election, it was perhaps inevitable that the old lion, Ian Paisley Snr, would come out with a typical growl and pithy soundbite.

Dr Paisley said that his former party colleague was "very welcome to come and get a hiding in North Antrim".

Allister, in turn, claimed Paisley’s election challenge as ‘hollow’.

In other words, both sides are saying “bring it on”!

So, in the interests of a real poll, at the Westminster election, should all the other parties stand aside so we can get this all over with once and for all and forget the phoney war of fragmented unionism?

This would at least keep the pundits, bloggers and correspondents busy for a wee while we all return to reality.


The Stormont Health Committee taking evidence for their inquiry into tackling obesity on 11 June 2009…

This picture can today (Friday) be found on home page of the Northern Ireland Assembly website. As you can see you can see from the empty seats, some members clearly have better things to do. Maybe they were out for a jog in the Stormont estate?

But seriously, what were the powers that be in the Assembly thinking when they decided to use this image on the home page - adding to the public perception that our MLAs are getting ‘money for nothing’. Maybe next time they use a pic of a committee at work, they’ll make sure it shows a ‘full house’. Then again, we may be waiting a long time.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Isn't it ironic.....

It was ironic that as the ballot papers were counted in for the election race to Europe, it was Europe that summed it all up with its iconic 80’s song ‘The final countdown’. And what a final countdown it was too, with a surreal excitement appearing as the voting slips were being sifted and tallied to give a picture on the shape of Northern Ireland politics that few could have foreseen.

European polls used to be seen as a simple sectarian headcount, with the usual two unionist candidates elected, and the SDLP’s John Hume securing the nationalist seat.

Since 2004 the SDLP seat has become almost impossible to win for the party. Sinn Féin edged the SDLP out, and now we have, what had previously been entirely unforeseen, Sinn Féin topping the poll and elected on first count. Oh, how things have changed.

That they have lost their one European seat in the Republic of Ireland – previously held by Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou MacDonald – will be quickly skirted over by the party.

The reduction of seats in the Dublin Euro constituency from four to three always made it more difficult for MacDonald to hold on. However, whatever the reasons for the loss, Sinn Fein can no longer claim to have all-island European representation.

However, the battle royale between the three Unionist candidates has been the one most closely watched by the pundits.

Even when Ian Paisley Senior stepped aside, Jim Allister – then standing as the DUP candidate – was virtually guaranteed a seat in the European Parliament. This time, the party’s candidate Diane Dodds held onto that hitherto ‘safe’ DUP seat by her fingernails.

The collapse of the DUP vote can be attributed to many factors. The party was not untouched by the MPs’ expenses scandal despite the robust defence by Peter Robinson and Gregory Campbell on the airwaves. Also, whether Dodds was the right candidate will be subjected to an in-party post-mortem discussion. Her performance on the BBC’s Politics Show was criticised by pundits and slammed on reputable websites. But, was it more a case that no-one else in the party wanted to accept the poisoned chalice of running against Jim Allister?

Allister’s TUV ran a clear and competent campaign, albeit one focussed on negativity directed entirely at the DUP. Even though he lost his seat 70,000 votes is some showing and will be a jolt to the DUP. A jolt that will have DUP strategists scratching their heads in advance of Westminster and Stormont elections.

Strategists behind the Conservative/Ulster Unionist match-up will be a little more content at the showing of Jim Nicholson. While he was 6,000 first preference votes short of Dodds total, it represents a credible first outing for a marriage that had a rocky start. Whether Nicholson has benefited from the Conservative bounce on the back of Labour’s election woes or not, it will be seen by the Cameron-ites of the UUP as justification for moving forward with the tentative alliance.

But when the dust has settled on the election results, and the pundits pore over the ramifications for future elections the fact remains that we have three MEPs.

In the new dynamic of an extended European Union, the voice of Northern Ireland can no longer be guaranteed to be heard on key debates on the economy, agriculture, structural funding and other pressing matters.

European gravy tastes much better than Westminster gravy or Assembly fudge, but it will be up to our newly elected MEPs to prove that they deserve our continued electoral support.