The Slugger East Belfast Debate: I Wuz There (Kinda)

I had a busy day yesterday. Breakfast in a shopping mall at Craigavon. Bus to Lurgan. Train to Bangor, getting there around noon. A few hours there in the company of a fellow blogger. At 3pm, I was on a bus to Belfast, via Holywood. At Laganside Bus Centre, I got off that bus and got on to a Newtownards bus…thru East Belfast. At 5pm I was getting a bus out of Newtownards and at 5.45 pm, I was at the Strand Arts Centre….or cimema!!!…for the great Slugger Debate between two of the East Belfast candidates. An hour later, I was in a taxi taking me to Dr Alasdair McDonnells, constituency campaign launch in South Belfast. At 10pm, I was in McDonalds in Lurgan.

A man of my age should be retired. Actually….I am retired.


I love Elections. It is a sacred time. Last night, I was talking to my colleague Mary Muldoon, who has the pretty thankless task of standing for SDLP in East Belfast. She was telling me how in (nationalist) West Belfast in 1977…her first campaign….she was chased by a mob as she and her husband were putting up posters. In those days, candidates used their own ladders. Mary’s ladder was abandoned and the mob made off with it. In Nationalist West Belfast. And two nights ago, Mary was at a hustings in Loyalist East Belfast, making her SDLP case to an audience in a Willowfield Church .That is progress. That is simple decency…an Evangelical Protestant Church extending to SDLP (and indeed Sinn Féin) simple courtesy. And Respect for the Democratic System.

How ironic is it then that Slugger O’Toole could not extend the same basic courtesy. In 1977, a nationalist mob stole Mary’s ladder. Did Slugger O’Toole steal four ladders last night?

At 6pm last night at the Strand “Arts Centre” (its a cinema!!!!) I was on mission to BLAG as much as I was on a mission to BLOG. Bare-faced lying to Brian from Slugger that I was hanging about the foyer, waiting for some tickets. Sneaked into the auditorium as David and Alan were setting up.

Actually I just wanted to know who was attending. Media, a couple of representatives from NIO, only one or two who I recognised from The Golden Halo of LetsGetAlongerism. Brian and David both indicated that there was no problem with me staying. So effectively…I was pushing at an open door.

In practical terms, I could not stay even if I wanted to stay. It clashed with a SDLP event in South Belfast. But clearly I had a problem with the event. It would have been wrong to support the event. Wrong to hear the opinions of just two of six candidates. To me…this is not what this sacred time of Elections is all about.

Again let me emphasise that I was treated with courtesy last night. Let this not appear to be “personal”. David McCann, who reads this blog understood my reservations.

Outside of Slugger O’Toole, there is broad agreement that the Slugger Debate disadvantages at least four candidates …from the Green Party, SDLP, Sinn Féin and Conservatives. I would be surprised if any serious analyst within the Slugger “core team” disagreed with this. They might reasonably claim that the four parties are not potential winners in East Belfast. But votes cast for the small parties can influence the result.

To be frank, Gavin Robinson’s chances of winning the seat for DUP are boosted  by the withdrawal of UUP and TUV. Naomi Long’s chances of winning the seat would have been enhanced if the four remaining parties withdrew. She might well be “scathing” about pan-unionist election pacts but if she had heard last week on “nomination day” that any one or more of the small parties had withdrawn….she would not nearly be so scathing.

Slugger might well argue and will argue that the four small parties will maybe not score more than ten per cent of votes cast next month. But Slugger will know those votes are crucial.

If respected analysts can argue that this event boosts the Alliance Party, then there is a clear question for Slugger O’Toole. Their own folks can say “Yes it does” or “No it doesnt” or deploy a default if incredible “Not necessarily”.

If analysts are agreed that Naomi Long and Alliance are boosted  and Slugger cant or wont address that belief, then it certainly does open the door for Slugger critics and occasional critics to suggest that boosting Naomi and Alliance was the intention. An honest and bullish response from Slugger might be. “For Gods sake, its not rocket science….we are Slugger O’Toole and our default position is one of supporting “progressives” and naturally we would prefer Naomi to win. can you really be surprised?”.

Yet Politics is a “bubble”. The East Belfast taxi driver who picked me up at the Strand, asked me what was going on there. Frankly he didnt think much of either Long or Robinson. But when we call it the Great Debate…it is hyperbole. It is 6am now and BBC and UTV News will be reporting it all and it might just influence a few people to vote Alliance or DUP at the expense of a smaller party.

But it was not a bad day. Good for Politics that there are a few SDLP (Mary Muldoon) posters in unionist areas of East Belfast. Good for Politics that there are a few DUP (David Simpson) posters in nationalist areas of Lurgan. Of course anti-democrats might well remove them before Election Day.

Quite possibly SDLP posters in East Belfast will end up on July bonfires. It would be ironic if Brian, Alan and David from Slugger condemned it because…lets be honest guys, thats (figuratively) what you folks did to Greens, SDLP, Sinn Féin and Conservatives last night.

Commenting on another thread on this Blog, unionist observer (known only as “Turgon”)  says that Slugger O’Toole needs to be constantly reminded of this episode. He is right. It has damaged Sluggers reputation…they will publicly deny or ignore this.

It is a bad error of judgement. But at 3am on 8th May….when the election results are announced and if Naomi Long is declared Member of Parliament for East Belfast, very few LetsGetAlongerists will be remembering a hustings event that many consider favoured Naomi Long.

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7 Responses to The Slugger East Belfast Debate: I Wuz There (Kinda)

  1. What a bizarre post John.

    ‘Bare-faced lying to Brian from Slugger that I was hanging about the foyer, waiting for some tickets. Sneaked into the auditorium as David and Alan were setting up.’

    You came in the door, someone asked you if you had a ticket. I said he is with slugger and you strolled on it unhindered. You make it sound like you were breaking into Colditz. We were our usual friendly selves, I even offered you a slice of my pizza.

    You said you were only staying around for 10 mins as you had to go to the SDLP launch. You were more than welcome at all times. Everyone was welcome at the debate. The only limitation was the cinema only held 250 people, this is why we had to give out (free) tickets. The tickets were freely available to anyone and they sold out in less than four hours. As for the other accusations Mick answers them here:

    • Brian,
      A week or so ago, I asked Mick if I could go to the VIP area or the Press area.
      Mick replied along the lines of “you wont get past the bouncers” (sic).
      I took it as a challenge. If I was breaking into Colditz, then it was Mick who set the premise that I had to break into the Strand.
      So yes I was using the conceit that I was an unlikely Aistin Powers breaking into the lair of Dr Evil.
      I went to the Strand in the belief that I would not be welcome. And as I pointed out myself, I was breaking down an open door and landed on my face on the floor.
      The bouncers that Mick had warned me I would not get past….you, David and Alan were remarkably friendly.
      But I already had my cover story to use …waiting on a friend with tickets.
      Again to my surprise, when I asked to go to use the toilets, I was sent thru the Screen 1 Door.
      And it was there that I took the pic….really for no more reason that I could demonstrate I had got past the bouncers.
      I did tell you and David that it was a lie and both of you had no problem with me staying but I really did have another event to attend.
      And I did have an issue in principle with the event itself.
      My interest was covering the Red Carpet which showed up a few usual suspects among the attendees. And one or two surprises.
      Like I said …I made it clear to both you and David on the night that the cover story was a lie….or a device to get me past the bouncers that Mick had told me would stop me.
      I dont actually recall the “hes with Slugger” comment but totally accept that you said it (I am partially deaf).
      But I must point out that Mick said the exact opposite the week before.

      • Turgon says:

        I must say if asked whose version I am inclined to believe it would not be yours Brian: John has a well earned reputation for absolute honesty and integrity. His post is far from bizarre. He has been generous in his praise of your conduct towards him in person. However, your behaviour over this whole issue is what has been bizarre.

        That John and others have a huge problem with this event should ring alarm bells. However, it is quite clear that so paramount is the agenda of helping Long that some are willing to throw all pretence of inclusivity and integrity to the wind. And yes since this is not on slugger I will state that you Dr. McCann and Alan Meban have all behaved in an inappropriate fashion and not for the first time.

        This gerrymandering is unlikely to help Long win the election. Maybe it will gain slugger credit from some letsgetalongerists in high places (though I doubt it). However, centrally it has damaged the website and I say that as someone who has a significant vested interest in it.

        This is not an irredeemable failure either personally or collectively. However, to understand that it is a failure would require thinking outside the group think which seems to have descended on this issue. That group think is arguably even more dangerous than the failure itself. I hope that eventually wiser counsels will prevail.

      • I would just add that Brian has said that when I walked in to the Strand, he said “”hes from Slugger” and while I did not hear it, possibly because of my slight deafness or because I didnt expect to hear it …I certainly accept that Brian must have said it.
        My decision to go to the event was prompted entirely by Micks assertion that I might have a problem with the “bouncers”.
        In fact the bouncers welcomed me.
        This is not Sluggers finest hour.

  2. I followed this on TwitteR. Asked about Robo telling Naomi to dry her eyes, Gavin said he couldn’t be held responsible for other people’s remarks. Like really? Like, even his own boss’s words?

    He repeated his St Peter impression over the infamous leaflet campaign and the Flegs dispute. Denied three times, did the cock crow in Robo’s garden?

  3. Turgon says:

    Incidentally John if you ever wish to contact me please feel free to do so – the email is real. We agree on much yet of course disagree on most issues in NI politics. However, all you have ever said on websites has smacked of honesty, honour and integrity.

    • Thank you “Turgon”. I reallydo appreciate that.
      In a way, I have had Honesty thrust upon me.
      This Blog was started in August 2011 as maybe the third or fourth attempt to create a Blog but I was always let down by not taking myself very seriously….
      The odd thing is that reading figures thrust responsibility upon me.
      I am indebted to a very good American friend who enjoyed my ramblings since 2005 and invited me to Texas in Feb 2013 to talk about Conflict Resolution to her post graduates.
      As a person who had never spoken in public (save three wedding duties)…it was an enormous act of faith on her part. And ai am happy that I did not let her or myself down.
      But the reality is that I was forced to blog more responsibly and not writing towards a “punch line”.
      I have always tended to think of you as my unionist alter ego.
      I will note the email.

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