It’s a tricky job writing about the man who hires you to write a weekly column; but since there are people who think every word I write stinks of bias anyway ( i.e., my political thinking differs from theirs) there’s little to lose. Last night I was at the launch of Mairtin O Muilleoir’s campaign for the South Belfast Westminster seat and it was a heady experience.
The first thing that struck me was that the lazy old dictum “They’re all the same” simply isn’t true. There were three speakers – the Sinn Féin vice-president Mary Lou McDonald, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the Sinn Féin candidate for South Belfast, Mairtin O Muilleoir – and not once did they descend to the ya-sucks-boo curry-my-yoghurt standard of political speech-making. The nearest any speaker got to criticising political opponents was when Martin McGuinness noted that in the wake of his three meetings with Queen Elizabeth, not one unionist politician approached him to say “That was a good thing you did”. Other than that, the emphasis was on pressing forward with reconciliation and the creation of new jobs for Belfast.
They were a formidable trio of speakers. All three spoke without notes and at some length. McDonald and McGuinness projected confidence and poise, which is hardly surprising since the room was stuffed with Sinn Féin supporters. Ó Muilleoir too was fluent and projected quick-talking energy, a man impatient to get working on the things he outlined. Which were?
Jobs. He emphasised his closeness with Irish-America and the possibilities that held for investment and jobs in Belfast. He spoke of education and his hopes for the raising of standards among young Protestant boys in particular. He spoke of his hopes for a new Belfast that’d be inclusive of diversity, that’d allow people to live lives free of sectarianism and want. And he spoke of his hope that the SDLP candidate for the South Belfast seat, Alasdair McDonnell, would meet him in public debate so that the electorate could see what both candidates had to offer.
Will his hopes be realised? Well not that last one. There’s as much chance that Alasdair McDonnell will put his lumbering speech-making skills against the fluency and drive of O Muilleoir than of Ronnie Regan having breakfast with me tomorrow.
“But but but” you splutter. “The Shinners don’t take their seats – what’s the point in electing them?” Ó Muilleoir had that one covered with a reference to Pat Doherty’s work in getting the Lisanelly army base in Omagh closed and the creation of a new site for schools where children would learn to share across traditional divisions. Although the sad emptiness of the Westminster chamber when a matter dealing with here is being debated shows you how interested British MPs are in anything to do with own dear little, sweet little colony.
Will Ó Muilleoir win the seat? He will if enough people vote for him. Will Gerry Kelly win in North Belfast? The numbers are there – he will if enough people vote for him.
Last night was an exhilarating experience – there was a sense of a party excited, united and on the move. Even more exhilarating is the thought of 7 May next, when our future will be literally in our hands. Time to quit whining about your politicians. If you don’t like ‘em, change ‘em.