Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Speedily Declining and Lazy Party

There have been many jokes surrounding the SDLP acronym; the Stoop Down Low Party is probably the most well-known. I remember one expanded the SDLP acronym to read ‘Slowly Declining Lazy Party’. I now think it would be more accurate to expand the acronym to read ‘Speedily Declining Lazy Party’. Hume must be spinning in his retirement package. This Declan O’Loan debacle is only the most recent episode of this decline. On the topic, I have a few rants to submit for your consideration.

  • The values of the SDLP and its ability to command respect and at least second preference votes across the whole community are not something that should be lost. In the interests of achieving Irish unity, that respect is vital.
  • The election was marked by a high level of tactical voting within the nationalist electorate, and indeed between nationalism and unionism. Many nationalist voters are willing to exercise their votes interchangeably between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. Equally it is clear that there remains solid support for what the SDLP stands for and that support is not going to change.
  • Sinn Fein and the SDLP come from very different backgrounds. The SDLP has always been absolutely opposed to violence and believes that the IRA campaign held back the cause of Irish unity.
  • The question now is what will best advance the interests of nationalist politics? I believe that a major realignment of northern nationalism is now called for, and I think that this means the formation of a new single nationalist party.
  • I have discussed the proposition of a new single nationalist party with the grassroots SDLP membership in North Antrim, including the councillors, and it was very strongly supported.
- Original Statements made by Mr. O'Loan

  • The statement which I issued earlier today entitled ‘O’Loan calls for formation of single nationalist party’ does not represent established party policy and I now wish to withdraw it. I do not wish to make any further comment on the matter.
- Retraction by Mr. O'Loan hours later

First and absolutely foremost, this man’s record indicates that he is by no means whatsoever an advocate of Irish Unity. You may recall Sinn Féin’s recent criticism over SDLP MLA Thomas Burns being paid by the British Ministry of Defence – the same MoD that committed, endorsed and colluded in many atrocities on this island for countless years. Well, SDLP’s endorsement of the British Army did not just start there. Another example can be seen in November 2008 when Declan O’Loan came out to support a RIR parade in Ballymena. And again, this was not the first example of Mr. O’Loan’s support of British collusion. In August 2007, Mr. O’Loan openly criticised a campaign for truth over British collusion in atrocities in Ireland – the ‘March for Truth’ – when it had launched its black ribbon campaign. This included demand for truth over British collusion in such atrocities as the UDA murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. Do these actions really portray an Irishman advocating Irish unity principles and defending fellow Irishmen? Mr. O’Loan could not even bring himself to come out and condemn the death threats against his fellow Ballymena Councillor Monica Digney in 2006 when even the DUP councillors found themselves able to do so. It is well-known the abuse and sectarianism that Miss Digney receives on that Council, with unionists drumming on the table to drown out her voice for example, but Mr. O’Loan never shows any sort of support or ‘unity’ there. Moreover, when Miss. Digney tabled a motion, which many in the area felt was vital, to tackle Larne’s drug problem, O’Loan sided with the unionists in rejecting the motion. Now, let’s examine his recent statement itself. Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd evaluates this much better than I can. Mr. O’Dowd recognises further proof that Mr. O’Loan’s ‘concern’ for Irish Unity is hypocritical in the following statement:

"The telling part of Mr O'Loan's statement is the final paragraph. He is seeking a nationalist party for what he calls 'Northern Ireland' one which would maintain working relationships with parties in what he calls 'the south'. This exposes very starkly the partitionist mindset which Mr O'Loan and people like him are trapped in. The Irish nation does not stop at Dundalk or Aughnacloy. And neither should any nationalist party. Sinn Féin are an Irish Republican party, our vision of a united Ireland goes far beyond that partitionist vision as set out by Mr. O'Loan.”

Mr. O Dowd continues to identify the difference in the 6-county vision of the SDLP and the 32-county vision of Sinn Féin. I suggest that Mr. O’Loan ought to consider switching his vision from a 6-county perspective to that of a 32-county if he is to truly consider himself an advocate of Irish Unity.

Secondly, I would like you to consider this. In the recent elections in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone (F/ST) constituency, the SDLP refused to stand aside in order to combat the sectarian pact against Sinn Féin’s incumbent MP Michelle Gildernew. Sinn Féin were willing in turn to stand aside in South Belfast in order to maximise nationalist representation. The SDLP bluntly rejected this proposal, refusing even to meet for discussion over the situation. Nonetheless, Sinn Féin and their candidate Alex Maskey made the unilateral decision to stand aside in South Belfast anyway, reaffirming in my (and many others’) eyes their commitment to the nationalist people. Now, despite the SDLP’s, quite frankly, rude rebuke, Sinn Féin still managed to defeat the sectarian pact in F/ST, with the SDLP’s candidate Fergal McKinney performing awfully. This victory over sectarianism was partly thanks to F/ST voters who have previously voted SDLP recognising the need to combine the nationalist vote by voting for Michelle Gildernew. Consider all that alongside the fact that O’Loan’s recent comments (which defied his party’s policy) had actual support within the SDLP (including councillors
Catherine McCambridge and Orla Black), and surely it can be suggested that, in fact, it is likely that there are those within the SDLP who, just as some of their traditional voters did, probably supported Sinn Féin’s position over the F/ST situation, despite whatever rhetoric was coming from the party press office.

My final consideration for you over this whole debacle, relates again to those, previously SDLP, voters in F/ST and to the support that Mr. O’Loan’s notion had within the SDLP. Now that SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie (‘the headmistress’ as she’s been dubbed to in the Blog Ulster’s Doomed) has stripped (‘spanked’ if you will...) Mr. O’Loan of the party whip one must consider first, what will be her reaction towards the defecting voters and O’Loan supporters, and second, what will be their reaction towards her? This is rhetorical, of course, as the headmistress will merely use O’Loan as a deterrent and ignore the voters entirely. I say this because while she ignored the F/ST failure, she similarly ignored the Republican voters in South Belfast who voted for her candidate. Indeed, her reaction towards South Belfast only enraged and insulted Republican voters there.

I hope before next year’s Assembly elections SDLP voters in all constituencies really look at the party and consider if it actually represents what they stand for. Or even consider what does the SDLP really stand for, with all the contrasting views.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Draw Islamophobia Day

A huge backlash, in the wake of Viacom’s decision to cover up the image of Islam’s prophet Muhammad on South Park, ‘went viral’ as the kids say these days. In the aftermath a group called Revolution Muslim issued a statement which most deemed as a threat, whereas it was more of a warning, to the creators of South Park. You can make up your own mind; you can find the post on revolutionmuslim.com.

Now, the fact that Revolution Muslim has a web address, don’t be too impressed – it’s a blog. Like this one. Admittedly with a higher readership (not hard), but a blog nonetheless. In fact it has a ‘staff’ of around ten people (brought to my attention by youtube.com/coughlan666). TEN! The media and those proponents of this ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ idea on YouTube would almost have you believe the organisation could rival the Taliban, or that it was the US domestic division of Al-Qaeda. That is the state of Western islamophobia, where it is easy to make insinuations and exaggerations when expressing this acceptable form of discrimination. For example, another common instrument used on YouTube is to use the word ‘Extremists’ in the first instance and follow it by ‘Muslims’ every other time, equating all Muslims to terrorists.

Now, let’s look at the actual reasoning behind this infringement on our freedom of speech, i.e. our freedom to ridicule, discriminate, and generally offend an entire religious group. First, let’s remember that it was not Muslims, or Revolution Muslim, or terrorists, or extremists, who covered up the image of Muhammad in South Park. It was Viacom, or Comedy Central who are owned by Viacom. So I hope that’s dispelled. The reasons behind the Muslim objections to images of their prophet being created seem quite simple to me. It is an effort to ensure that images, or shines/statues etc. for that matter, are not worshipped as Allah ought to be. I’m not sure if I’ve explained it well enough there, but it’s my best effort. This would prevent the worship of relics as was/is the norm in Christianity – the Shroud of Turin for example.

I would like to pose the question – is this really that unreasonable? And is it that unheard of in Western society?

What I’m getting at here is that we should consider that the images on South Park and in the newspapers in Europe in previous controversies were on national TV shows and widely distributed newspapers. These images offend the very ‘morals’ (for want of a better word) of Muslims. There are such morals (still searching for another word!) in our own society. For example, South Park and those newspapers could not have displayed hardcore pornography. While actors’ reactions can be shown, the actual vaginal or anal penetration cannot. At least not with the current level of restrictions on them (South Park and the newspapers), they can of course show this when on higher levels of restrictions. Another example can be actual death. So while we can show an actor being killed in a movie, we certainly wouldn’t expect to hear of a fatal car crash on the news and then be provided with images of the crash actually happening, including for instance, a pedestrian’s head fatally hitting the kerb of a pathway and splitting open. So when images of Muhammad offend Muslims in such a way, why is it such an offense to Western society to add these to the exceptions in our freedom of speech? Many of the YouTubers supporting 'Draw Muhammad Day' seem to forget that there are exeptions to the rule. Also, the freedom of expression excuse is flawed since they do not do this merely in defiance of the South Park episode - they plan to make this an annual day. An annual holiday to promote discrimination and islamophobia.

So I would like you to consider, in reference to this ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ idea, is it right to use our freedom of speech to offend and insult an entire people? Perhaps in the same fashion we should bring back the black minstrels to ridicule the entire black race. It’s just freedom of expression after all.

Note: I have made my own ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ video for YouTube. I put the link here when uploaded.
Ed: Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7OfDDly778

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tories Rejected, but still They come!

For me, the silver lining of this Tory cloud has been the complete rejection of the Conservative Party in the six counties, manifested in the dismal performance of the Ulster Unionists. However, this rejection has been entirely ignored by the new coalition government in Westminster since they have sent us Owen Paterson MP as Secretary of State. Not just a member of the Conservative Party, but a real traditional Tory, ultra right-wing. The hope of a Lib Dem Secretary of State was by no means unfeasible – Scotland’s new Secretary of State is Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander. The problem I have with a Conservative Sec. Of State is that from the outset their involvement in UCUNF discards any possibility for impartiality. Perhaps you may consider it unnecessary for the incumbent to be impartial, which may be true for other regions, but our situation is relatively unique. How successful would Mo Mowlam really have been had she been involved with a political party in which one of their main policies was Unionism? Her impartiality allowed her to bring together all aspects of our political scene to create the peace deal. However, now that this ultra-Tory has been dispatched to the North, along with his fellow Tory Minister of State Hugo Swire, let us find out just who this man is and what his political beliefs are.

For anyone not aware: Owen Paterson was Shadow Sec. Of State since July 2007 while the Conservatives were in opposition, so he is no stranger to Ireland or Irish politics. During this time, his support for unionism was quite clear. In fact, he was one of the main proponents of the Conservative/UUP link and divided time during the recent election between campaigning here for Ulster Unionist candidates and campaigning for himself in his own constituency in Britain. He was involved in the secret meeting over the, ultimately unsuccessful, sectarian pact to oust Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The bias in favour of UUP which we can expect to be exercised by Paterson can be best demonstrated by the example of his attitude towards Lady Sylvia Hermon during the devolution of Policing and Justice powers debates – she had asked him what efforts David Cameron was making to encourage the UUP to support the deal but Paterson’s response was that she ought ask her own party leader with who the Conservatives are linked. Her opposition to the link-up was already made clear and his attitude only reiterated the rebuke that she received from party leader Reg Empy and Ulster Unionist candidate Jim Nicholson during the 2009 European Parliament election campaign. Clearly, unionism will form a core aspect of this man’s politics.

One huge difference between Paterson and his Scottish counter-part is that while Alexander is a great proponent of the EU having previously been media chief for the now defunct pro-European pressure group Britain in Europe, Paterson is his polar opposite. A staunch Eurosceptic, he has always voted strongly against pro-European legislation except in those few cases where he was absent. I won’t list them here but the following link gives a breakdown of those votes.




Yep, our boy is a massive Thatcher advocate. He joined Thatcherite groups within the Conservative party including No Turning Back, and Conservative Way Forward. Conservative Way Forward’s tagline reads ‘keep the spirit of 1979 alive’. I wonder how well that would go down with some people here! Paterson supports right wing policies of low tax, low regulation – Enron would have loved him I think.

He is also involved with the Cornerstone Group, another group within the Conservative Party representing the most right wing aspect of the party. The most worrying aspect of this organisation is their support for a unitary state meaning that not only do they oppose the authority of the EU, but are also opposed to devolution. I advise everyone to go and look at their website because it is very worrying – their emphasis on Christian values within politics, the unitary British state and ‘family values’, they remind me a lot of the tea parties in the United States. In fact, with the motto Faith, Flag, and Family they might as well have been the brainchild of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin! They state that they stand for the Monarchy, and one can assume they therefore stand for the unelected House of Lords (Lords of course, because they’re better than you). Indeed, Paterson himself has voted very strongly against the removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords.

However, I wonder how this group feels now that Paterson has recently stated "I'm very keen that we publish a paper on how to devolve corporation tax to the devolved institutions". Moreover, if the statement in the following link is to be accepted then his “consistent support” for the devolution of Policing and Justice also contradicts the position of Cornerstone Group. I certainly hope this doesn’t provide for a politician putting career before principle.


Again, in another statement on the 13th of February 2010 Paterson again declared that “we [Conservatives] fully support the institutions established in Northern Ireland over the past decade”. I wonder how much “we” really refers to Conservatives and how much it refers to the Conservative leadership or to what the Conservatives needed to say to maintain their link with the UUP. He continues to explain that while he supports the current form of mandatory power-sharing, he envisages a time when the Assembly would have the “normal” form of government and opposition. So therefore, his vision encompasses devolution to last long-term, even permanently. Again, does this not contradict the policies of the Cornerstone Group?

However, Paterson does adhere to Cornerstone’s attitude towards Christian or ‘family’ values. Paterson voted against Civil Partnership in 2004 and has never voted for any legislation which promotes gay rights. He has voted in opposition to homosexual couples adopting, which in my opinion goes against family values since there are many children out there yearning for the family that a homosexual couple could provide. He also slots in well to the stereotypical Tory model voting against the hunting ban and smoking ban.

However, his voting record has not been entirely as predictable as one would expect of a member of the most right wing contingent of the Conservative Party as he has generally voted in favour of tackling climate change, in stark contrast to their American counter-parts like the global warming denier Glenn Beck. If you want to check Paterson’s voting record, or the voting record of any of your MPs, use this link:


Ultimately I’m not happy with the Tories once again wielding power in Ireland, and for Paterson to be such a Thatcherite/ultra-Tory, it’s rather unnerving. Then again, with the devolution of Policing and Justice, his responsibilities will be limited. If he gets the Saville Report published as soon as possible, and holds the unionists to the three agreements, then he’ll have little opportunity to justify my anxiety. Touch wood. Meh, rant over.