I’ve never quite understood why John Dallat didn’t run for the leadership of the SDLP. He’s a totally fearless politician who speaks frequently and clearly, and doesn’t mind taking on stronger opponents, whether those be loyalist leaders or unionist politicians. He has been doing his usual outspoken thing about the Knock Golf Club scandal and for his pains has been subjected to a favourite response from some DUP politicians.
I know something of what the SDLP man must be feeling this morning, since I’ve had a little bit of the same thing myself. On a radio programme about six weeks ago, I reminded listeners that the Orange Order, in its history and its constitution, was and is an anti-Catholic organization. The response of my co-interviewee, Rev John Dunlop, was to suggest that to make such a statement was to be sectarian oneself. Get the idea? Charge us with something and we’ll attach a nasty label to you, in the hope that’ll invalidate all you say.
So when John Dallat called for an inquiry into how Planning Servoce approved plans for four hundred new homes on the Knock Golf Club site, the response of environment minister Edwin Poots was to smear the SDLP man: “For Mr Dallat and others to attack my department officials in the way that they have is morally corrupt”. At which point his DUP fellow-member Jonathan Bell called “And sectarian!”
It’s an old tactic and, I’m sad to say, an effective one. The comfort is that it doesn’t work with members of the public who use their heads when they do their thinking. As for those who use another part of their anatomy to form judgements, they’re hardly likely to listen to John Dallat in the first place.