Long To Reign Over…?

Perhaps the biggest news of 2022 was the death of Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England. A sad event for her family and of course many English people.

Her father George (“George VI”) died in February 1952, a few months before I was born. Elizabeth was crowned just over a year after I was born. So in my lifetime, I have only known one English monarch.

Back in 1968 when the Queen was a relative novice, I started studying Economics and Political Studies for A level. The first essay was titled “Is the Monarchy a God or Bad Thing?”

The basics about Monarchy is that it operates best when nobody looks at it closely. And its apologists would say that it brings consistency and stability to a troubled political world. And….er it is good for Tourism.

Of course Mickey Mouse is good for tourism in Florida but he is not the Governor of the State.

I have some sympathy for the view that the monarchy is consistent. But there is something about Elizabeth Windsor and her children that roots her reign in 1952/53. Stamps and Banknotes and portraits suggest that rather than being constant, the Monarchy is actually stagnant.

It is a stretch to believe that the Royal Family is politically neutral. They are too close to the tweedy cousinage of aristocracy for that to be convincing.

Of coursem Mrs Windsors hubby, an economic migrant from Greece …..Philip…..an unconvincing Duke of Edinburgh did attempt in the 1960s with the connivance of the BBC to portray the family as just another family. It had limited success. Likewise the Silver Jubilee in 1977 was undermined by public apathy and ridicule…cue the Sex Pistols version of God Save The King.

Arguably the institution was saved by Lady Di, the only eligible virgin in England that Charles could marry. Arguably rocked by royal divorce (including Andrew and Anne) and redeemed by William and Kate, rocked by Andy and those allegations and redeemed by the noble service of seventy years…and rocked again by Harry and Meghan.

Later this year, in May, Charlie will be crowned. At 74, he is unconvincing as a Prince Charming. It is as if the world stood still from 1953 to 2023. All those English folks who bought a TV set and invited the neighbours in to see the Coronation…does that really work in 2023?

Of course the Royal Family has a longevity gene and it could well be that Charlie lives and reigns as long as his mother. So he could still be King of England in another twentyyears.

More likely he will sit on a throne for ten years before abdicating. He is a curious relic of the 1950s and deference.

It is all going to be interesting.

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2022 Assembly Election & 1993 Grand National

I wrote on Tuesday about how the 2022 Assembly Election and the SDLP performance left me grief-stricken.

Time is a great healer so I am trying here to look at what actually happened.

First of all the facts. There are 90 sears at Stormont.

Sinn Féin took 27 seats (no change from 2017) with a slight upturn in percentage vote (29%). A nationalist party winning more seats than any other party is seismic.

DUP took 25 seats (a loss of 3 from 2017) and the vote share dropped 6.7% to 21.3%, almost 8% less than SF. They were actually lucky. They gained a lot of transfers from TUV.

Alliance took 17 seats (up from just 8 in 2017) and with a vote share of 13.5% (up 4.5%). Always a transfer-friendly party, their “seat share” is better than their “vote share”. Alliance hailed it as a break thru for the party.

Ulster Unionist Party -UUP took 9 seats (a loss of 1 from 2017). Vote share of 11.1% was down 1.7%.

SDLP took 8 seats (down from 12 in 2017) and the big losers. Vote share fell to 9.1% from 12%.

Independent Unionists took 2 seats…one close to the thinking of UUP and other close to the thinking of DUP.

TUV retained its single seat (party leader Jim Allister) but could not capitalise on increasing its vote share to 7.6%. Simply put the “traditional unionists can not pick up transfers and rather than eating into the DUP seats they actually helped DUP as TUV voters transferred to them.

People Before Profit -PBP held its only seat.

The Green Party lost both its seats.

The overall effect was that despite SF being the biggest party, the nationalist designated seats (SF and SDLP) fell from 39 to 35 and unionist designated seats fell from 40 to 37 and “Other” designated seats rose from 11 to 18.

But it was a strange election because it had no consequence. Whether motivated by Brexit Protocol (official) or unwillingness to see a Sinn Féin First Minister (more likely), the DUP did not allow the Assembly or Executive to be formed.

Had an Executive been formed, the First Minister would be from SF and Deputy First Minister from DUP and Alliance (neutral) would get the Justice portfolio.

The other seven Executive seats would go to SF (2), DUP (2), Alliance (1) UUP (1). SDLP would be entitled to 1 seat but as they had signalled they wanted no part in the Executive, it would have gone to SF.

From a nationalist/republican perspective, a 10 seat Executive where SF has 4 seats, DUP 3, Alliance 2 and UUP 1 looks kinda ok.

From an Alliance perspective taking two Executive seats from 17 MLAs is really no improvement on their two Executive seats from 8 MLAs. They do of course have staff in constituency offices but really thats no substitute for wielding the kinda power they thought they would have for five years.

The Assembly elected in May 2022 is now eight months into its mandate. Will it ever actually sit? Will an Executive be formed?…the condition seems to be a Brexit Protocol deal acceptable to DUP. Will the Secretary of State call for a new election and if thats the case then the results will not be the same as in May 2022.

The fact is that the results of the 2022 Election are null and void…unless of course there is a “Protocol Agreement”. This means that Alliance’s greatest triumph could actually mean that they are at their most impotent.

Alliance…all dressed up and nowhere to go.

But what has this to do with the 1993 Grand National?

Well if you are old enough to recall, this is the Grand National that never actually happened.

Around 40 horses went to the line at Aintree. And they started. It was a false start. Some of the jockeys realised right away and others ran up to the first fence and turned back.

And they started again. Another false start but nine horses were left at the starting line. The others jumped the first fence. And despite frantic efforts by officials, the horses and jockeys ran on. Some thought that the officials waving and signalling to them were actually animal rights activists (the Grand National being a very dangerous race for horses). And they jumped for two miles and most started the second circuit.

Commentators were calling it the race that never was.

And seven horses and riders actually finished the four and a half miles around Aintree. The “winner” was outsider Esha Ness and the winning rider was John White, a jobbing jockey having his eighth ride in the big race.

But the real point is that the 1993 Grand National never actually happened.

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Back Again? Maybe

I have not blogged in months.

Energy levels are low. And blogging monthly on the Deaths during the Troubles (Decade of Half Centenaries) was depressing …at times at a very personal level.

Also the Stormont Election in May was so depressing that it felt like a bereavement, especially the SDLP falling from 12 seats to 8 seats and basically also rans. It was the death of an old and much loved friend.

This Blog has been running since 2011. I will never re-capture the glory days of 2013-2016. But I am surprisingly optimistic.

It will be as much a journal as a Blog….at times about History or Travel as much as narrow Politics. I have done quite a lot of writing for other platforms, notably in United States but many reading this will be familiar with comments made on Slugger O’Toole. Often I have written anecdotes from my life from pre-school in the 1950s.

When I started “Keeping An Eye on the Czar of Russia” in 2011, I was 59 years old. I am now 70 so the next decade is quite probably my last active decade before I shuffle off to the great Blogosphere in the Sky.

It is really a legacy to my children.

So lets see what happens.

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Decade Of Half Centenaries: Deaths April 1972

There were maybe 20 Troubles-related deaths in April 1972.

British Army: Seven. Two were killed by the (Provisional) IRA and five (including four in Derry) were killed by the Official IRA.

Ulster Defence Regiment. One man was found murdered at side of the road in County Armagh. The murderers were Provisional IRA.

Republicans: Three IRA men died in a garage in Bawnmore North Belfast when a bomb they were making exploded prematurely. Joe McCann aleader in the Official IRA was shot dead by the British Army in the Markets area of Belfast.

Civilians: One man was “executed” as an informer by IRA in West Belfast. An 8 year old girl was killed “accidently” by IRA during a gun battle in North Belfast and an elderly Protestant was killed in an IRA bomb in Ballymoney, County Antrim.

An elderly man (86) was killed by the British Army as he looked out his window in Divis Tower and an 11 year old boy was killed by a rubber bullet fired by the British Army. Another Catholic civilian was killed by the British Army in West Belfast.

The other civilian deaths (a Catholic walking on Falls area and a Catholic taxi driver) were both killed by loyalists.

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Derry Girls…What Can I Say?

Derry Girls (and the Finale) was brilliant.
What makes it good is that the jokes that occasionally misfire “three Catholics in the RUC” are compensated by the Politics that always works.
A harmless wee comedy? No.
It is Subversion.
I have never believed in Shared History. I still dont believe in a Shared Future.
But one sided comedy is clearly better than shared comedy…the Blame Game and Give My Head Peace.
You may think that Derry Girls is YOUR story. It is …apart from the Derry bit and the Girls bit…MY story.
It is not OUR story.
If half the people in your life are called Geraldine, Eamonn, Deirdre, Orla, Fionnuala….then it could be your story.
But if half the people in your life are called Trevor, Jeffrey,Victoria, Keith, Douglas, Arlene, Iris, Violet……well thats not my story.

Yes it was specific to Derry and specific to teen girls. But I guess Clonard Girls, Twinbrook Girls, Newry Girls, Strabane Girls would not be a lot different.

Some might say I am missing the whole Feminism thing…but again its a very precise form…as taught by Sr Michael who believes GOD is a woman.
And those four girls and the wee English fella are shaped by each other, loving families and an educator who cared.
Good luck with Integrated Education now.

You might have been outraged in an earlier season when Sr Michael told the Chernobyl teens not to worry about the whole Civil War thing that the only thing they needed to know is that “we are the goodies”.
You might have long suspected that this is the kinda thing themmuns were taught at Catholic schools and the reason we had all the Troubles.
Or you might have thought it was an outrageous joke.
But if you just smiled knowingly then it might be your story.

But if you think Derry Girls was a shared experience, then I will lead you in singing “The Town I Loved So Well.”

And the Finale.

There was music there in the Derry air…

Orla dancing with those “wee steps and stairs” was a foretelling that each Derry Girl generation is an update of the previous one. A conveyor belt.
But Orla ended her wee dance by confronting the British soldier and telling him she was going thru the gate. And she did pass thru the gate.
Wee innocent Orla.

Of course it was emotional. The plot hole seemed to be Michelle’s murderer brother of whom we heard nothing before. But there is no hiding. Whoever he murdered was an innocent man. There was no ambiguity that he killed a British soldier or RUC man. And part of the Good Friday Agreement Referendum was about releasing the paramilitaries.

But Derry Girls is not just about four girls and a wee English fella.

It is a generational thing.
In 1972 (Bloody Sunday), Joe, Colm, Eamonn (hooray for the pioneer pin) and Jim across the road were already adult men.
Gerry was still a child in Navan.
They voted in 1998.
Mary, Deirdre, Sarah and Geraldine were children in 1972.
They voted in 1998.
The Derry Girls and the wee English fella were still to be born.
They voted in 1998.
Áine the toddler in 1998 was at the polling station, hand in hand with Joe, her granda.
They all agonised in the run-up to the Referendum but the expressions on the faces of the older folks an were an indication of how they voted.

We saw how the first time voters voted…….YES
Does a smiley emoji count? Or is it a spoiled vote?
And I am now telling myself that I will eat my next ballot paper. If it is good enough for Tommy Duddy…that requires some planning (a blank sheet of paper folded multiple times and taken into the polling station)….but only if SDLP has not folded multiple times.

See I was 19 in 1972. My (not yet met) wife was 13. My mother was 59. My father was 54.
And three of us voted in 1998. Except for my father who like Geraldines hubby did not live to see it.

And the police inspector….Liam Neesons wordless cameo.
Did he vote for change?
Or was he too troubled, understandably by the thought of dead friends and paramilitaries released. For the Referendum was not really a shared experience.
Optimism on one side…..and Fear and/or Resignation the other side.

The biggest flaw in the Finale was that an English audience or American audience might think our two tribes voted equally for the promises of the Good Friday Agreement. Best estimates suggest 95% of Catholics and 55% of Protestants voted YES.

We were too optimistic.
We did get 24 years of acceptable peace.
But Seamas Mallon said it was Sunningdale for Slow Learners. He was arrogant. He did not anticipate it would fall apart and that another generation would have to sort it out again ……..Sunningdale AND Good Friday Agreement for Even Slower Learners.
David Cameron did the right thing….made things a little better.
Do you trust Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees Mogg?

We taped Derry Girls last night so we could fast forward thru the commercials.
As it ended, I switched over to BBC and saw Stephen Nolan and Jamie Bryson.
Jamie Bryson was 8 in 1998.
Stephen Nolan was 24.

Of course I only watched Nolan for ten seconds. But long enough to hear Mr Bryson say “principle of consent”.

Makes ya think.

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10th May 1952. 10th May 2022.

I am a very blessed person. I was born into a great family. I helped to create a great family.

The family I was born into are all dead.

I was actually born in the City Hospital…the “Jubilee” building. Almost three years later, my sister was born in the Gardner-Robb building at City Hospital.

As Auntie Sheila always said…and as I often repeated…baby boys are born in the Jube Jube and baby girls are born in Gardner Robb. Eventualy when I was in my late 40s, I worked out that this is probably not true.

So my programme for today.

A trip to Belfast City Hospital to see if the Jube Jube is still there. And whether there is a plaque stating I was born there.

Then Milltown Cemetry……Granda/Granny, Uncle Jackie/Auntie Mary and Auntie Sheila/Uncle Charlie.

Then home for a while with the new family.

Then a visit to my granddaughters grave.

Then at 7.30pm tonight I will be at my parents grave. I was born at 7.30pm and my mother still had her hat on. So as a tribute, I will wear my hat.

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Assembly Election: East Derry

East Derry is a constituency which includes Coleraine, Limavady, Dungiven,and some coastal towns. Traditionally unionist but with a large Catholic minority and a university (UUC) at Coleraine.

East Derry..Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) SDLP (1) Sinn Féin (1)). Independent Unionist (1)

On Monday, I was in Coleraine. Actually a lot of evidence of the election.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The quota is likely to be around 7,000 votes.

DUP have two MLAs. The candidates this time are Maurice Bradley and Alan Robinson, whose father is an outgoing MLA. Neither are well known outside the constituency so at least one will be vulnerable to a swing against DUP.

Darryl Wilson. The UUP lost its quota here after internal dispute when David McClarty who left the party in 2011 and died in 2014. He nominated his staffer Claire Sugden to succeed him and she has been in the Assembly since.

Claire Sugden, former staffer of David McClarty who has been in Assembly since 2014. She has served as Minister for Justice from 2016 to 2017. All Independents have a shelf life and I expect Claire Sugden will find votes drifting away from her to UUP and Alliance.

Jordan Armstrong’s second successive Assembly election and likely to take some votes from DUP.

Caoimhe Archibald is an outgoing MLA and Kathleen McGurk is a newcomer. Sinn Féin have more than one quota.

Cara Hunter stood in the 2019 Westminster election. And surprisingly came second. In 2020, she was seconded to replace John Dallat who had died. This caused some local resentment. In recent years, the local party has bee n having too many disputes. Will it cost the SDLP a seat? Cara was the victim of sectarian abuse during the campaign.

No meaningful track record for the Greens in East Derry so Mark Coulson will do well to get 1,000 votes.

Peopl Before Profit stood in 2017 and Amy Merron will be hoping for 1,000 votes.

Ah the one to watch. McCaw turned 2,000 votes in 2017 into 6,000 in 2019. On his side Alliance will have momentum.

But this is a field with sixteen candidates.

Gemma Brolly an Irish language teacher. Aontú have been under-estimated in this election. This is one of their heartlands.

For the second successive Assembly election, a split in the SDLP.

In 2017, Gerry Mullan was de-selected and stood as an Independent. It nearly cost the SDLP candidate John Dallat a seat.

Stephanie Quigley stood for SDLP in 2017 Westminster election and I would have assumed natural successor to John Dallat’s seat.

She did not stand in the 2019 Westminster election and Cara Hunter performed well, taking second place. This handed pole position to Cara who was then co-opted for Stormont.

Russell Watton PUP. Scored almost 1,000 votes in 2017. Probably less this time.

Billy Stewart no impact.

Niall Murphy will not make an impact.


No but a very long count. I am not a regular visitor to Coleraine but I was at a funeral in the Catholic church some years ago and discovered there is a small nationalist housing estate across the River Bann from the town centre.

Actually it is quite a lot bigger and more assertive than I recall.

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Assembly Election 2022: North Antrim

North Antrim is a constituency which includes Ballymena, Ballymoney, Bushmills, Ballycastle. The buckle on Norn Iron’s Bible Belt. A nationalist area around Ballycastle.

North Antrim : Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) UUP (1) TUV (1) Sinn Féin (1).

On Monday, I passed thru Ballymoney and later stopped off in Ballymena. Frankly little sign of an election in Ballymena.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The Quota will be high. Maybe 8,000 votes.

North Antrim is an odd constituency marked by unionist infighting and a bunker mentality against nationalists.

Paul Frew has been allocated Ballymena and Mervyn Storey has been allocated Ballymoney. Both big hitters. If either lost it would be big news. Ultimately this is Paisley territory…where Rev Ian first began his political career over fifty years ago. And where his son Ian Junior is practically MP for life.

Robin Swann is Minister for Health and based in Ballymena, No posters. He is credited with doing the best job possible during COVID and despised by Anti-Vaxers. But the Health Service is in crisis. And he deserves no credit for that.

Running mate is Bethany Ferris.

To some extent Jim Allister is the “New Ian Paisley” . Some would say rabble-rouser. Some would say thorn in the side of the unionist “Establishment”. In 2022, the unionist establishment is the DUP. Jim aided and abetted by a shock jock on BBC Radio Ulster has really one issue…The Protocol. And an aversion to anything to do with nationalists.

Matthew Armstrong, his running mate is allocated to Ballymena.

Philip McGuigan the Sinn Féin MLA is likely to hold the nationalist quota.

Patricia O’Lynn has been making progress and tipped by some to take a seat. If he does, it will not be at the expense of “Sunny Jim” Allister or Philip McGuigan. It would have to be a big name…Fre, Storey or Swann.

I think it is a bridge too far.

Eugene Reid is SDLP candidate and in recent years SDLP has failed to bring out its core vote in North Antrim.

Green Party candidate Paul Veronica will not make an impression.

Laird Singleton is an Independent Unionist.


None. But Jim Allister is a “one man band” but a noisy one. He really needs to get a few TUV folks elected or just be labeled as a marginalised figure.

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Assembly Election 2022: South Antrim

A constituency comprising Antrim Town and other areas like Ballyclare, stretching to North Belfast at Glengormley.

South Antrim: Currently five MLAs: DUP (2) UUP (1). Alliance (1) Sinn Féin (1)

Friday 29th April. Antrim Town. The first surprise was the large SDLP billboard at the Railway/Bus station. The billboard contrasts a monochrome Jeffrey Donaldson and Trevor Clarke with colourful Colum Eastwood and Roisín Lynch. Seemingly Clarke does not like the billboard as it draws attention to his..er…record.

The second surprise is the number of nationalist SDLP, Sinn Féin and Aontú posters around the town.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The Quota will be around 7,000

Trevor Clarke was a MLA who lost his seat in 2017 and co-opted when Paul Girvan went to Westminster in 2019. He attracted some adverse publicity and SDLP seem to be targeting him. There is a billboard at Antrim Train/Bus station which compares He and Jeffrey Donaldson unfavourably with Colum Eastwood and Roisín Lynch.

Clarke has been allocated the Antrim area and “Glam Pam” Cameron the rest of the constituency.

Former UUP Leader and ex-British Navy officer, “Submarine” Steve Aiken is a sitting MLA. Paul Michael, a newcomer has been allocated the Antrim area.

Danny Kinahan’s 12,000 votes in Westminster 2019 is a respectable vote but boosted by tactical voting. It would be a major coup if UUP took a second seat here.

There is certainly a republican/nationalist seat in South Antrim. And Declan Kearney and Sinn Féin would be favourite.

John Blair is interesting. He replaced David Ford who retired in 2018. Ford only secured 5,000 votes in 2017 and Blair did well to get 8,000 at Westminster 2019. This despite losing tactical votes to Danny Kinahan.

This not only suggests a comfortable quota but possibly transfers.

The SDLP are putting in a lot of effort here. But they need a perfect storm. A good first preference vote and transfers and getting some traction from “Clarke or Lynch”.

TUV did not stand in 2019, backing Paul Girvan of DUP against Danny Kinahan so the true strength is not easy to determine. Probably at least 2,500

Roisin Bennett could be the kingmaker here. Initially taking votes from Sinn Féin and SDLP and maybe trickling back as transfers.

Likewise Jerry Maguire People Before Profit. His second preference votes will be more interesting than first preferences.

Lesley Veronica. Unlikely to make an impact except for transfers.

Andrew Moran is an Independent and wont really count.


None as such. But the unionist infighting might well allow someone under the radar. A long count.

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Assembly Election 2022: East Antrim

East Antrim includes towns such as Larne and Carrickfergus, staunchly unionist and extends into the Glens of Antrim which is nationalist.

I was in East Antrim (Larne and Carrickfergus) and Antrim (South Antrim) on Friday

East Antrim. Current make up is DUP (2), UUP (2). Alliance (1).

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022

The quota will be over 6,000.

East Antrim is a DUP/UUP stronghold. Yet in the present climate it is hard to see any way that they can hold four seats. For the DUP Gordon Lyons is one of their senior figures, a minister in the recent Executive.

He is based in Larne, the epicentre of the Protocol controversy.

Davy Hilditch is based in Carrickfergus, He seems to have been around for ever.

UUP: Roy Beggs….still sometimes referred to as Roy Beggs junior has been a MLA since 1998 and one of the Deputy Speakers in Stormont. His father Roy Beggs senior is now 86 and was MP for East Antrim for twenty years.Beggs posters are in Larne but I note he has an office in Larne.

John Stewart posters are in Carrickfergus.

To some extent it is a surprise that UUP has parity with the DUP here. And for Doug Beattie’s “union of people” rhetoric to be credible, the UUP needs to hold its two seats.

Alliance have two candidates. Veteran MLA, Stewart Dickson and Danny Donnelly who has been knocking on the door for some time,

Donnelly stood in the 2019 election. His 10,000 votes boosted by some tactical voting. But he is certainly being promoted by the party. His posters are in Larne and Carrickfergus.

Norman Boyd is TUV candidate. This is a constituency where TUV is expected to do well but a quota is probably beyond them.

We are all familiar with the phrase “head lower than a Catholic in Larne” so quite possibly Catholics in the town will be relieved. Back in 1998, SDLP took a seat in East Antrim, which led to a small ant-Catholic pogrom. So nationalist votes in coastal villages will find their way thru first preferences and transfers to Alliance.

Siobhán McAlister is from Cushendall. She will be hoping to raise the SDLP profile. She is the only woman in the contest.

Her poster was outside the Catholic church/primary school.

Oliver Mcullan (Sinn Féin) lost his seat in 2017 and unlikely to regain it.

Mark Bailey (Green Party) might have the transfers to help Alliance.



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