Hara kiri, NI21-style


I’m just back from  the Public Records Office building in the Titanic Quarter,  where I was part of a discussion panel that included Malachi O’Doherty and Alex Kane. The panel discussion, which wound up a day of talks and lectures marking the fortieth anniversary of the Ulster Workers’ Strike, was a lively and enjoyable experience. The one thing that everyone seemed agreed on: the leadership of unionism is and for a long time has been pretty damn useless.

Which brings me to the amazing imploding NI21 party. Oh dear God. I watched and remembered former Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, who famously said that if the things in Nuala O’Loan’s report about the RUC were true, he’d commit suicide in public. Or words to that effect.  NI21 has gone into a public space, produced a  large cleaver and is busy lopping bits off itself, slicing open its middle and scooping  the innards onto the pavement. And as George Harrison sang, isn’t it a pity?  The first unionist party in living memory to come up with an attitude and agenda that looked civilised and promised  progress, and what happens? The two leaders, hours from an election, rip each other’s head off and start playing football with them.

Why? Yes I know the stuff about changing designation to ‘other’ at Stormont, but that couldn’t have done it. I know the allegations about Basil’s, ahem, inappropriateness.  But I still can’t  believe that’s the whole story. Because in all these cases, one question demands answer:  cui bono? Who benefits?

I’ll tell you. The traditional unionist parties. Putting Irish in your billboards? Having a fenian woman as your poster person? Talking to Shinners and others as though they were ordinary human beings? For God and Ulster’s sake – that  stuff is heresy. What if it caught on? What if it started taking unionism in a different direction from the not-an-inchery, never-trust-a-taigism that we’ve always prided ourselves on?  Cheesh. And phew. Good riddance.

Now I hurry to add I haven’t a shred of evidence to support my muddled hypothesis, but the fact is that the cause of reasonable, progressive unionism, with the gut-spillings of NI21, has been set back at least ten years.  You think NI21 will walk and talk and frame policy and garner votes again?  Two hopes – no hope and Bob Hope. Its grisly fate will act as a warning to any unionist politicians  who might be harbouring notions of being positive, creative, or advancing the state of unionism and the state generally.  So yes, NI21 may have done itself all this damage. But I can’t help remembering Basil’s vague reference to ‘dirty trick’s. And I think : Cui bono? Start with the TUV and work your way upwards through the various splintered elements of unionism. The DUP will now be able to point and say “See what happens when you go soft? Not an inch!” Sad, sad, sad.

7 Responses to Hara kiri, NI21-style

  1. ANOTHER JUDE May 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    Who benefits? is always the sensible approach to political scandals, as you quite rightly say, Basil and John`s approach threatened to drag Unionism forward by a century or two and there are those who would rather that did not happen. Incidentally, having read Paul Larkin`s chilling account of British state terror in Ireland, I am a little bit disappointed but not particularly surprised that good old Ronnie F is still among the living. An RUC man who was telling lies, who`d have thunk it ?

  2. Am Ghobsmacht May 24, 2014 at 12:15 am #

    This could be the end of unionism.

    If NI21 were to do well then some of the smarter/more opportunistic unionist politicians might have tailored their policies to mimic these fresh (rather ‘long overdue’) ideas.

    But alas, the country will be awash with “sure didn’t I tell ye?!” and other forms of “I told you so”.

    So it’s back to the tried and tested formula of paranoia, rabble rousing, shouting no surrender and viewing everyone with an independent thought as a Lundy*.

    Perhaps something can be salvaged from the ruins, but it will be difficult.

    I’m sure the members and big wigs at NI21 will be disheartened, but, imvho they have an obligation to go on and get something done, it’s cruel to show us that unionism has the potential to change and then just give up.

    They can’t just abandon us to the likes of the DUP and the TUV.

    I really don’t know who would consist of a potential regroup but I hope someone steps forward.

    *Thought, if Lundy did have sympathies for James I then surely that makes him ‘the’ Loyalist and everyone else in Derry traitors/rebels? (Some food for fight there)

    • Antonio May 24, 2014 at 6:40 am #

      A lot of nationalists struggled to see significant difference between NI21 and the Alliance Party. Was there something significantly distinctive that we were missing ?

    • NorthMunsterman May 24, 2014 at 8:19 am #

      “An Ghobsmacht”

      Agree with you about the end of unionism.

      NI21 offered a possibility of attracting Nationalists and thus extending the life-time of the North – now, it’s over.
      The mainstream Unionist parties are a non-runner for the vast majority of Nationalists – so it’s now simply a question of time before the inevitable Nationalist majority (2020) translates into a political majority (mid-2020’s) – and the majority increases with each year subsequently.

  3. paddykool May 24, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Jude :
    Well that was an interesting denouement. Real blood letting and, tears and chest -beating on the streets..It was probably a very bad idea to have a party with two leaders. Politicians are ambitious creatures to begin with, so putting two potentially alphas together wasn’t such a great experiment in retrospect.

    On the outside looking in , it appears that the only reason they are not in the Alliance grouping is because the two leaders wanted to glory in a little “Me time” and shake hands with a little personal power. To get what they couldn’t get in the Official Unionists.

    I think the party is truly buggered. I’ll be very surprised if there’s a mighty pumping , all new with bells and whistles re-build..People will scratch their collective heads and look askance . They’ve been sold a lovely cuddly new pup that grew into an ankle- biting hound. I think that the two careerists’ political ambitions have been left slopping about in the doldrums for another ten years. That’s a long time in politics, Jude!

    What is now playing out is the reality that unionism has lost its best chance to evolve into an all- embracing party that has a possibility of growth at the “not- sure” fringes of Nationalism….the only place they are going to pick up any new numbers in the future.

    Most nationalists see unionism as too conservative for their tastes anyway and what NI21 was promoting was something new and something almost alien to the perceived unionist ethos..
    That’s gone now.
    Mind you , it’s a funny old place this …Only about half the people bothered to vote!! 40-50% by some accounts….

    File that for future reference with the Marching Stadium, The Queen and the Pope’s joint visit and any of the other mad schemes we all need to attend to in this little Neverland…

    Is anyone out there?

  4. giordanobruno May 24, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    ” I haven’t a shred of evidence to support my muddled hypothesis,”
    You have never let that hold you back in the past, so carry on.

  5. RJC May 24, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    I think the shame of the (predicted) demise of NI21 is that what they did manage to achieve was to encourage a lot of younger people to enter the political sphere. By all accounts, Basil spent much of the past 18 months visiting 6th Forms across the province and talking to the students. In light of recent allegations, lets hope that’s all he was doing. But I digress.

    These under 30s who found themselves running on an NI21 ticket in council elections may have been a bit wet behind the ears and somewhat naive but they all did seem full of hope for a better tomorrow. They appeared to come from a reasonably broad range of backgrounds (maybe not so many from poorer backgrounds, although I’m happy to stand corrected on this).

    Can you imagine somebody like this fellow being welcomed into any of the other Unionist parties?


    It’s very easy to be jaded and cynical, and I will admit that the the ‘Hey, Tweet me daddio! #freshpolitics’ aspect of it I found a little cloying, but it was heartening to see so many people entering politics with hearts full of hope and heads full of hair. I only hope that this weeks NI21 ego clash car crash has not turned them into cynical old so-and-sos. Time will tell.