That Was The Week That Was

A bad week……but what exactly happened?

Belfast City Council meet to debate the Big Flag…..the British one which flies over the City Hall. Belfast is no linger a unionist citadel.

There are fifty councillors. Sinn Féin have sixteen. SDLP eight. So nationalists have twenty four seats.

DUP have fifteen. UUP (what a pathetic rump they are) have three. PUP have two. So unionists have twenty seats.

Alliance which calls itself “middle of the road” has six seats.

The nationalists prematurely in my view want to remove the British Flag. That is what nationalists do. I dont see why they cant just wait until they have twenty six seats. They are backed by some kinda “Equality” Report which suggests that the Flag is a tad over-used.

Alliance…..and I am not totally sure why…suggest a compromise. Fly the British flag on seventeen designated days such as Mrs Windsor’s birthday, Phil’s birthday and er a lot of other birthdays.

Sinn Féin and SDLP support the Alliance motion and it passes 29-21. It is all a bit heated. Protestors outside (loyalists) start a riot. And it gets worse on Tuesday. Worse on Wednesday. An Alliance Party office in Carrickfergus is burned. Attempts are made to burn another in Bangor. And the home of an Alliance couple in Bangor is attacked.

So what exactly went wrong. Im a nationalist and a republican and it will be a joyous day when the Butchers Apron is taken down from the mast for the final time……..of course as a responsible civilised person I must pretend that I would never use such a phrase. Yet Equality Report or not … seems premature.

Why exactly did the Alliance Party get mixed up in it. It was a reasonable proposal but were they actually a bit surprised that Sinn Féin readily went for it. Did Alliance fall into a republican trap? If SF had simply insisted on their own (and SDLPs motion) it would have got at most 24 votes. Alliance would have voted with unionists to defeat it.

Certainly if I was a SDLP member of Belfast City Council, I would have taken the Alliance Party’s hand off to get that motion. It was definitely a nationalist/republican victory.

And did unionists……especially the DUP set a second trap for Alliance? Four of the six Alliance councillors are based in East Belfast. Did DUP have one eye on discrediting Alliance ahead of the next set of elections. They are still peeved at losing the Westminster seat to Naomi Long and ironically the star performer of the night was the Lord mayor……Gavin Robinson…who will be favourite to be DUP candidate. Is that what all these anti-Alliance leaflets handed out in (mostly) East Belfast were all about? All the venom in the debate was directed at the Alliance benches and the placards outside “Traitors!” were hardly aimed at Sinn Féin or SDLP.

And curiously everyone at home following the debate on “stream” and the debate on Twitter knew that there was a Plan B……flying the British Flag all year round at the Cenotaph. So why wasnt this Plan B made into Plan A. Alliance would have come out of the debate better.

Simply put Alliance got their tactics wrong. Of course they probably counted on the fact that the loyalist mob was controlled and that the Alliance usually….but not always gets a bye-ball…because of their perceived non-sectarian credentials. I don’t think they properly factored in the over-reaction and the violence. I dont think many did.

It is all very well saying “we will not be intimidated” but if a decision ws in my hands ….that I thought would result in vicious, nasty, fascist attacks on my Party….I am sure I would think long and hard. I dont see that as necessarily giving into imtimidation. But I do see it in the context of thinking things thru.

The PSNI…..lip service will be paid to their fortitude etc but it looks like they got it wrong also. There simply wasn’t enough of them. In a seperate blog, I have indicated that there is political policing going on…….NOT necessarily in the context of republicans versus loyalists…….but I believe in the context of propping up the increasing sham that is Stormont.

Alliance  are of course entitled to use the wave of sympathy from decent people. Indeed, tonight there are reports that a former UUP Press Officer, David Simms (Sims?) has defected to Alliance Party. Actually the UUP will be the biggest losers out of this. The performance at City Hall was bad enough but Mike Nesbitt is not exactly stellar.

So two things. Alliance wants a “recall” of Stormont but is only backed by SDLP andGreem……….and shamefully just two from UUP, the usual semi detached Basil McCrea and John McCallister. David Ford, visibly shaken I thought….deserved better. Late in the day DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to a recall on a motion that Ford seemed to describe as nearly like his own.

That looks shabby. Clearly without Sinn Féin and DUP, Alliance could not get the required thirty signatures and basically had to accept the DUP/SF motion. But where on earth were the UUP? The unfortunate thing for Alliance is that the debate will be basically controlled by DUP and Sinn Féin.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness……have they been seen in public? I dont think so. Robbo’s statement is frankly mealy-mouthed. And it does not dispel the feeling that Ford is merely a creature of DUP/SF despite his insistence that Stephen Farry has a mandate from the electorate and he (Ford) has a mandate from the Assembly.

On UTV tonight, Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin) was competent enough and Stephen Farry shell-shocked. Edwin Poots (DUP) was awful. Mike Nesbitt was worse. Conall McDevitt was very good. I think he edited himself. Of course as a SDLP member, I suppose I would say that anyway.

But actually SDLP had a good day. Quickly signed up to the Alliance “recall” motion. Alasdair visited Stewart Dickson in Carrickfergus. And might actually prove a better friend to Alliance than Alliance has been to SDLP in recent years.

UUP will bleed votes to Alliance. But SDLP wont be losing sleep. Just look at the plain fact that these Alliance offices are all within about 13 miles from Belfast. ………Newtownards, Bangor, Lisburn, Antrim, Carrickfergus.

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33 Responses to That Was The Week That Was

    • Thanks. I appreciate that.

    • Actually it was quite difficult to write because it seemed “too soon”. Theres too much human misery in here rather than political “stuff”. I said earlier today that I was writing this piece which is why I actually published a different post on the “human dimension” earlier.
      There are some times when normal hostilities need suspended.

  1. Pingback: Perhaps we need more trouble makers in Stormont rather than on streets? « Slugger O'Toole

  2. sammymcnally says:


    Cant agree with your analysis – or you logic – I dont get how you can say “I dont see why they cant just wait until they have twenty six seats. ” and also argue that “nationalists prematurely in my view want to remove the British Flag”. Nats could in theory win 2 seats next year.

    The Alliance party are the convenient outlet for Unionist (political and street level ) disillusinment with the natural outworkings of the Peace Process and were selected by the UUP and DUP becuase they the softest target and becuase it was politically beneficial to the DUP. it seems ridciulous to suggest that the Alliance party are to blame for a compromise which gives the City hall same flag flying policy as Stormo – and totoaly unfair to suggest it after being attacked by a bunch of loyalists.

    Once Unionists had idnetified who was to ‘blame’ and informed the Unionist community via their leafeltting campaign violence was entriely predictable(see earlier posts on here) and the responsibilty for it lies at least partially with those who encouraged loyalists down a path which was always going to end in confrontation.

    Alliance should be supported for their brave stance – and it would be nice to hear a from words from Hilary on that and a few less that diplomatic words about those who have stirred up this ‘crisis’.

    • I just dont see how SF/SDLP thought that 24 votes was enough to remove the Flag. And would surely have been anticipating Alliance would vote against that. The compromise they gladly accepted backfired on Alliance because it committed them to vote for a compromise that they probably thought would not be accepted.

      • DC says:

        Tactically you called it v right FJH, Alliance failed to use dirty politics to get to its clean set of principles, it should have let SF and SDLP take the flag away altogether and get that carried in full council by abstaining. Then it could have negotiated with the DUP and UUP from a position of strength because it would be progressing the issue, putting the flag back up, than working with SF and SDLP regressing it, deflating civic unionism, out of which it draws its votes.

        IT would have shown nationalists up in the process for being a tad OTT opting for full removal, but more importantly it wouldn’t have rattled, shocked and spooked its own unionist constituencies. Which is what has happened, in Carrick the mob was rising high on top of genuine shockwaves!

      • I just think there was some naive politics here by ALliance. But I hasten to add that the real point is that they have suffered (loyalist) brutality as a result.

      • sammymcnally says:


        “Then it could have negotiated with the DUP and UUP from a position of strength because it would be progressing the issue, putting the flag back up, than working ”

        I take it you are assuming they would still be alive at that point.

        … and it might well have suited the DUP to let the Alliance Party stew with that policy.

        re. “rising high on top of genuine shockwaves”

        I know Lisburn is not the ‘Capital’ but there is clearly an element of the mob being incited to view this as something new and dreadful – when it is not.

    • DC says:

      Well they would still be alive because they could ask the electorate to reflect on the harmful nationalist motion. as a result no harm would have come their way. it’s all about managing expectations. a week before the vote go on radio saying Alliance is not intervening, it will watch what happens and be on a listening exercise after.

      then after that, politische macht 🙂

  3. DC says:

    HI FJH

    Great post, agree with most of it. Not sure on the SDLP bits. But great post.

    Sammy – are you barred from Slugger O’Toole – aka Mick Fealty’s online notebook (with very very select guests)?

    • Thanks ….obviously I am a SDLP member so balance is difficult. I never make any claim other than SDLP “is in the game”…understandably enough SF and Alliance (and their supporters) like to downplay it.

      • Oakleaf says:

        Could the sdlp lose votes to Alliance in south Belfast over this carry on?

        It will do Sinn Fein no harm.

      • The simple answer is “yes” but we are talking of elections which are still a long way off.
        Last weekend none of us would have foreseen the week that was to unfold.
        There will be a lot of other weeks…..and some will be better and worse for parties.
        I am now in my ninth day not buying newspapers but I caught sight of the Belfas Telegraph headline “we are all Alliance now” and of course this is nonsense.
        Alliance people have been attacked before…but their low profile as liberal unionists keeps them comparatively safe.
        Unionists have actually had people killed….Robert Brdaford…..Edgar Graham.
        SDLP have lost Paddy Wilson.
        Sinn Féin……well too many to mention.
        But there was never a Belfast Telegraph headline when Mirian Daly (IRSP) was brutally murdered. “We are all IRSP Now”.

  4. sammymcnally says:


    Yes, oxtered-oot. You still a frequenter?

    • DC says:

      I’m sorry to hear that – and still turn up for a wind up. but, it’s lost a bit of its edge as it retreats more and more into the Mick Fealty notebook zone, than any sort of snap shot of wider opinion.

      • DC……in fairness Slugger is a discussion board and that necessarily involves unionists andnationalists and thats possibly a recipe for disaster in terms of Debate. A Blog like I hope more conversational (if I can put it that way).
        Aided by the fact that I am a committed nationalist/republican/socialist. Im a member of SDLP but at heart a pan-nationalist.
        All Blogs are “entitled” to have an agenda. A discussion board… different. Slugger certainly has a liberal unionist/Alliance agenda and thats fair enough (if they admit it)

  5. hoboroad says:

    Rumour has it Basil McCrea may not be semi-detached from the UUP for much longer. I bet the odds on him joining Alliance are dropping by the hour.

    • I still think he is more “Conservative” and he appeared at a Tory thing in Lagan Valley about six weeks ago.
      They would love to have him on board.
      The problem Alliance will have is that in mopping up “liberal unionists” and “”conservatives” it actually changes the Party.

  6. sammymcnally says:


    The boy Baz has done good. He deserves credit for taking a stand on principle. Unionism really needs sensbile people like him – it would have been some fun if UCUNF was still going.

    I wonder if the Tories, BNP or UKIP have had their spake yet on this?

  7. Lest we forget, there is bad blood between the DUP and Alliance, most notably in the dup’s Camelot, Castlereagh, and its been going on in thet for decades.

    When I get off the iPad and on to my laptop, I’m sure I will be able to link a few articles of things that have went on there but suffice to say, the DUP have been pretty savage to the lentil munchers.

    Not only has it been a bad week for unionism (we had the UN vote on Palestine and William Hague removing blanket support for Israel, the vote and the violent response going international and then there’s the Celtic thing 🙂 ), its been a bad summer, through autumn and now in to winter with unionism showing all but the most naive, their connections to very shady people. Even more, they have demonstated beyond doubt that they haven’t moved an inch since ’69.

  8. hoboroad says:

    Slap it up Mike Nesbitt for being Peter Punts little messenger boy. For handing out 40,000 leaflets blaming the Alliance Party for this flag fiasco.

  9. sammymcnally says:

    Nesbo probably wakes up in the middle of the hight imagining he is going to be swallowed whole by Robbo – somehow whenever anyone from the UUP thinks they see some territory marked middle-ground way off in the distance it turns out to be yet another mirage.

  10. sammymcnally says:


    It is hard to believe that the Alliance/SDLP/SF didnt consider the likely outcome. It was after all a fairly moderate and a compromise proposal that was passed and was in place elsewhere.

    Tactically disastrous move by Unionism given SF (improving) position in Councils throughout Ulster. Flags like parades is now another cultural Maginot Line.

  11. Pingback: The Unionist Minority In Ireland – Do As We Say, Not As We Do! | An Sionnach Fionn

  12. bangordub says:

    Terrific and engaging post. I must say my immediate reaction to the “fleg” riots was to despair for unionism. (Well, a bit anyway) On reflection I actually think Unionists need a form of cathartic release. Yet again the dispensible and deniable foot soldiers are “protesting” looking for scapegoats, attacking the innocent, damaging their own communities and making eejits of themselves after the stable door has swung open. Yet again they are being made to look like yobs and inarticulate knuckle draggers.
    I know that these images are a minority but when is the rest of Unionism going to stand up and take this on. Head on?
    It would not be before time

  13. sammymcnally says:

    What was the name of the group that organised the protests? Protestants-against-that-sort-of-thing or some such name? Interesting if they interviewed the leaders – perhaps they have history with other political groups? Interesting if they have had any pre-protest meetings with the DUP, that would seem unlikley wouldnt it?

    DUP not being asked nearly enough difficult questions.

  14. hoboroad says:

    Two hundred were at the DUP mayor of Newtownabbey’s Christmas dinner and 400 were at a Christmas function involving singer Peter Corry.Around 30 to 40 loyalists who congregated at the gates hijacked and burned two cars and smashed the windscreens of other cars belonging to people attending the functions.People at the play were delayed and those at the Christmas dinner had their evening cut short because entertainers could not get into the premises.A situation arose where people inside could not leave and people attempting to enter were obstructed.DUP assembly member Paul Girvan attempted to speak to the protesters but was initially stoned.He was eventually recognised by the loyalists.He said that as far as he was concerned there was clear paramilitary orchestration.Mr Girvan blamed the Ulster Volunteer Force.

    Taken from BBC NI News website.

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