Last night at the Lansdowne


I chaired a meeting in Belfast’s Lansdowne Hotel last night. It was organised by Sinn Féin and clearly intended to boost the attempt by Gerry Kelly to take the North Belfast seat held by Nigel Dodds.  Besides Gerry Kelly, the other two panellists were Deirdre Hargey,  leader of the Sinn Féin group in Belfast City Council, and Carál Ní Chuilín the DCAL Minister at Stormont.

It was an interesting debate and one that raised a number of issues besides the central one of the North Belfast constituency election. At one point, instead of asking a question, a  burly man detached himself from the audience and headed for the table behind which we were seated. I immediately began an Act of Contrition but it turned out his wrath was directed at Carál and Gerry: he’d written to them on some matter which he refused to divulge publicly and hadn’t received a response. He added that he’d been similarly rebuffed by representatives of all the other political parties, including the DUP. Carál Ní Chuilín apologised for the response failure and assured the man she’d be happy to discuss it with him at the end of the event. When I left they were still talking in what seemed a civilised way.

That was the entertaining bit. The serious bits were such matters as the Ashers Cake controversy and the North Belfast Westminster election. When I asked Gerry Kelly if he thought the Ashers people and the several thousand who’d come to the Waterfront Hall a few nights ago were sincere or cynically using the incident as a way to block equality legislation, he conceded that many of the people involved were probably sincere. That, he added, didn’t mean they were right. Unionism has always fought against equality legislation, for the good reason that any righting of the balance would mean unionists were no longer in the top-dog position.  They were using the Ashers Cake case as a bulwark against the drive towards a fairer society.

Other matters were touched on, including the need for Acht na Gaeilge/an Irish Language Act . That on its own could have occupied the entire evening’s discussion. For me, though, the matter of the North Belfast election was the most interesting.

All three panellists, not surprisingly, rejected SDLP candidate Alban Maginness’s claim that a pact with Sinn Féin would be a sectarian pact. Not a particularly difficult conclusion to arrive at, since the pact/no pact has obviously nothing to do  with religious faith and everything to do with politics. In the end, it’s a question of who can or can’t be elected in North Belfast.  One thing is certain: Alban Maginness can’t. Which means his candidature exists to minimise the chances of the seat going to Sinn Féin.

And there is a  possibility that will happen. The figures over the years show the gap between Nigel Dodds and Gerry Kelly narrowing inexorably. Kelly believes things have now reached the tipping point: the question is, will voters who broadly support Sinn Féin’s policies and who see little to nothing from the years during which Dodds has warmed the seat – will they come out to vote? If they do, it’ll mean clambering over three obstacles: Nigel Dodds, Alban Maginness, and a drop across Western Europe and the US in the number of people who bother to vote.

The third of these is the one that makes me punch the wall. Voting or not voting is a bit like being ambitious or not ambitious in your career. You can reject ambition as a power-hungry delusion and feel good about yourself; but if you do, you must be prepared to face a future where you’re bossed about by some nincompoop with the brains of a canary.   In short, if you sit on your hands, you put yourself at the mercy of what could be the merciless. Likewise with voting. By saying “Sure they’re all the same!”  and staying at home, you pass control of the election outcome to other people. And as  the recent air disaster showed in a terrible way, bad things can happen when you cede control  to others.

At the end I asked the audience for a show of hands in favour of compulsory voting: the great majority of those present were in favour. Me too. We don’t get the politicians we deserve. We get the politicians others choose for us while we sit on our lazy arses  watching Eastenders.

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23 Responses to Last night at the Lansdowne

  1. bf_bhoy March 27, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    as a north Belfast resident (living within walking distance of Lansdowne) I would have thought as a potential SF voter I would have been made aware of this event. Am I reading the wrong publications or was it invited guests only?

    • Jude Collins March 27, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

      I have no idea, bf bhoy. My guess is it was an open meeting. I can’t say I saw much publicity for it myself, but then I don’t get out much…

  2. Joe Canning March 27, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    Another good post Jude, however the reference to the air crash was a bit of a misjudgement methinks.

    • Jude Collins March 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

      Well I paused before using it, Joe. An example of hyperbole, I suppose, and not intended to in any way diminish or disrespect those poor unfortunate people.

  3. Allister March 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Bf sorry if you weren’t invited but we delivered 1200 leaflets to houses in the area,the full length of the Antrim Rd,and all the streets on either side of it.

    • sherdy March 27, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

      Allister – they don’t have ‘streets’ either side of the Antrim Road: they have ‘avenues’.

  4. M M March 27, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    Compulsory voting, would that also have to include compulsory attendance at the House of Commons for elected MPs? Fairs fair after all.

    • Paul K March 27, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

      Surly Irish politicians should expect to attend their own Irish parliament, not some foreign house of commons? Fairs fair after all.

      • Jude Collins March 27, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

        Agreed, Paul K. Only I’d expect politicians of a sunny disposition to do likewise…

  5. Perkin Warbeck March 27, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Interesting to see,Esteemed Blogmeister, that what Belfast is doing to boost the Shinners’ bid for more seats by the holding of public meetings is mirrored by efforts in Dublin to do ditto.

    Take Brer Rabbit in Dail Eireann during the week. When he stood up to announce in his peculiar patois of Palantation Mayo that ‘RTE is operating as a recruiting sergeant for the Shinners’.

    Too true, too true.

    Yes, this is the same Dail Eireann whose very first session in the Round Room of the Mansion House in 1919 was conducted entirely in the lingua franca of the leprechaun, with not one solitary yawn being reported. But dat was den, and dis is now, as Eoghan Harris would put it.

    Eoghainin na nAontachtaithe (for it is he !) could well be the script writer for Brer Rabbit (and there is nothing to suggest that he is not) which hints at a curious coincidence. The script writer for the original Brer Rabbit was one, Joel Chandler Harris. One wonders if they are, by any chance, related.

    Certainly the rumours that Brer Rabbit (the current one) was heard to sing, during the recent Labour Party Ard-Fheis in Killarney, a rousing chorus of the Oscar winning toon from the successful Disney movie made of the Uncle Remus stories, all ring true. (Kerry being referred to as Disneyland by Dubliners).

    Zip a dee do dah, zip a dee-ay
    Wonderful feeling, wonderful day !

    (This is known as the ‘TAL’ song in the subtly humorous circles which surround Bean Yawnaiste, the comedienne leaderene of Labour).

    Indeed, rumour further has it, that so impressive was the rendition of Brer Rabbit that moves are a-foot, possibly, even a rabbit’;s foot, to remake the 1947 movie , ‘Song of the South’. It is proposed to rename it ‘Song of the Free Southern Stateen’ and the words will be subtly rewritten to suit the change of setting.

    Thus: ‘Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder
    It’s the truth, it’s actual,
    Everything is satisfactual’.

    To this: ‘Mister Blueshirt’s on my shoulder’ etc.

    Only the most hare-brained of slow learners are surprised that Brer Rabbit is the, erm, Stick of choice of the Labour Party with which to whack the Shinners. Many Sticks, of course, have, erm, Aldershot their bolts but not all of them.

    (Point of information:this Stick is not at all to be confused with the Wooden Spoon. The latter is the only reason the Scots continue to play rugga for, the better to stir the Better Togethers’ porridge with. Though the confusion is pardonable).

    And there is more than a smidgen of truth in the assertion that RTE, for whom the alternative Easter Week religion is no longer for the pigeons, are the recruiting sergeants for the Shinners.

    One has only to mention the time, (prime) and tedium that went into their fawning, uninterrupted interviewing last week of some distinguished and celebrated Tory MP whose name escapes one at this moment in t. The topic was the illegal letters posted to the OTRs.( in envelopes with less than the requisite stampage?)

    By another peculiar quirk of fate, there is a historical precedent and not unlike Brer Rabbit, the OTRs belong to the world of letters of the 19th century.

    The leprechaun for an OTR is, of course, An Sechranai and the dramatist Dion Boucicault of Dublin (crazy name ! crazy dude !) immortalised him in the enduring melodrama: ‘The Shaughraun’.

    Plus ca change, plus c’est ca meme chose as the French men of letters say. The truth of which is borne out by a viewing of this melodrama would attest. It is populated by characters dressed in scarlet hunting coats, old yellow top boots, check shirts, ragged grey frieze overcoats, red waistcoats and – le kicker – that great stand by, the good old Irish billycock hat.

    As the reticent Fine Gael gal from Royal Meath, Regina Rud Eigin, will tell you at the drop of a blue blouse:

    -Dem is de very rig outs dat de modern day Shaughrauns, de OTRs likes to tog out in. Ya can spot dem a royal mile away. Shur, I have a lisht of a 100 names here. Wait till i rummage through me handbagge.

    But there are differences, none the less, muted though they be..

    In the 1966 production of the play to mark the reopening of the Abbey Theatre with its elegant urinal-ike facade the part of The Shaughran was taken by Cyril Cusack. The night Perkie’s inner prodigy was in attendance, the legendary thespian spoke his lines wonderfully well, at least those lines he could remember.

    One character who never forgets his lines, and he has a wealth of same to recall, is Richard Boyd Barrett, MP ffor Kingstown. Though a grandson of Cyril Cusack heself he gets to play the part of The Shaughraun’s bete noire (more French letters) the Squireen Cory Kinchella.

    RBB would not be too taken with those of a nationalist bent, an adjective he pointedly tends to pronounce with a silent g as: gnationalist. Here’s what he has to say about The Shaughraun.

    -The divil guide him to pass the night in a bog-hole up to his neck.

    Perhaps, plus ca change, is not quite as change-proof as hitherto suspected.

    • Jude Collins March 27, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

      I know I shouldn’t do this but I feel that you, Perkie, would appreciate a Dorothy Parkerism that I came on t’other day. Her presence was requested by someone, and Dorothy told an underling: “Tell her I’m too fucking busy. Or vice versa”. Boom boom.

  6. Perkin Warbeck March 27, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

    Sad to relate, Esteeemed Blogmeister, but It’s been a bad trait of y.t first observed by the Dame Dowager in Warbeck Towers.when Perkie Og had scarcely had the silver spoonerism removed from his newborn the midwife from Mid Ulster:

    The invariable lowering of tone, regardless of the company.

  7. Iolar March 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    Yes but what about the important issues you missed? Thankfully RTÉ had its priorities right this past week and was in a position to keep viewers informed about significant changes in a Boys’ Band. It was important also to keep abreast of decisions in relation to a driver for change with a penchant for speeding, crashing cars, fighting and making racist comments. Sorry there was just no time for elections, pacts or petitions. No tanks.

  8. ANOTHER JUDE March 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    I think people will vote for Gerry Kelly regardless of whether or not a stoop stands, if you catch my drift. Alban is one of those politicians who makes me want to throw something at the tv screen every time he appears but as the old saying goes, he`s not worth it. Nigel`s constituents think so much of him that one of them bounced a brick off his head. Says it all really.

  9. Antonio March 28, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Compulsory voting is a very bad idea. As far as I’m concerned if people are foolish enough to voluntarily disenfranchise themselves then let them get on with. And lets face it if people don’t want to vote then it will often be because they know nothing about politics. If such people were legally required to vote they would probably pick a candidate at random, spoil their vote, or in the words of Ali G ‘ you just tick the person with the funniest name innit’ so their votes would be detrimental for the rests of people rather than beneficial.

    • giordanobruno March 29, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      I see no problem with compulsory voting as long as people are able to spoil their vote or tick ‘none of the above’.
      If one benefits from being part of society then one ought to share in the responsibility for that society in some small way: no man is an island.
      Of course if one wishes to live in a cabin in the woods like Thoreau that is another matter.

      • Jude Collins March 29, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

        I’d agree, gio, apart from the Thoreau bit – I’d drag him out too. (He spent only a short while there in fact.) I don’t think that all the non-voters would do ‘none of the above’ or spoil their votes if voting were mandatory. Most people who don’t vote I think do so because it’s too much bother. If it were mandatory, I suspect they’d choose a party or candidate when they got there.

  10. Gerard March 29, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    Jude plZ ignore my earlier comment sent a min ago – I see Alister has already responded

  11. neill March 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

    Did you ask Gerry Kelly about his Royal Pardon?

    • Jude Collins March 29, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

      Well, no actually, neill. Two reasons: I was supposed to be a chairman, not a questioner; and he’s the one who said he’d been given a royal ..ooops, sorry, Royal Pardon. It was one of these things that were foisted on him, I gather, as a way of having him extradited to the UK. Why do you ask?

  12. neill March 29, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    Ah just being nosey good to see your coming out to help your party always good to see people coming out and being interested in politics.

  13. Glenn March 29, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    Interesting to see the shinners take their rabid socialism and no to benefits reform to the middle classes and where I would suggest the SDLP would get most of their vote from.

    What is also interesting is in the week that we are told of many republicans taking their Royal pardon’s. Were does this sit with Bobby Sands and the other nine’s so called struggle for political status. Doesn’t seem like the principled republicans we keep hearing about, more like Royal pardons good British bad, but then again it’s good to administer British rule.

    Finally wouldn’t it be interesting with all these OTR letters knocking about has anyone thought to asked, did any of the shinners/provos who were involved in child sex abuse and moved get a letter. Now there’s interesting.

    Any chance of the honest answer to that straight question Gerry and Carol.

  14. michael c March 29, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Have to say its laughable the way SFs enemies are spinning Kelly’s “Royal pardon”.Kelly didnt ask for any pardon.The Dutch regarded the L ondon bombings as political and refused to extradite him to serve time for them.The Brits the used the royal pardon as a device to quash the bombing conviction and get him extradited on escape charges .He was then sentenced to 5 years which he served.