SDLP Selection Convention South Belfast

I am typing this at noon on 25th June. I will not publish this post until after the result of the Selection Convention in South Belfast is known. As far as I know there are only two candidates for two positions so not exactly difficult to predict that Fearghal McKinney and Claire Hanna will be selected. Of course David McCann, Deputy Editor of Slugger O’Toole might have a different view.

It is important to emphasise that this is a Convention to choose two candidates to fight the Assembly Election in May 2016. It is NOT just about choosing a candidate to be co-opted into the Assembly to replace Dr Alasdair McDonnell, who is standing down from the Assembly.

Fearghal was himself co-opted to the Assembly in September 2013 as a result of the shock resignation of Conall McDevitt. He is close to the Party Leader and has done well as Spokesperson on Health.

Claire is in her early thirties, an excellent Councillor in the City Hall (eg her Living Wage Campaign) and has SDLP in her DNA….her mother Carmel was a MLA, her father Eamonn was General Secretary of the Party and hubby Donal is a former member of the Party Executive. The “news” tonight will be her deserved selection.

Notably David McCann (now Slugger O’Toole Deputy Editor) called the 2013 Selection Convention wrong. He thought Claire would beat Fearghal but as the victory margin 113-69 showed, nobody who knew anything about SDLP would have thought Claire would win that night.

To some extent tonight is the third and (hopefully)  final instalment of SDLP Selection Conventions in South Belfast in less than six years. Claire suffered because of her close association with Conall McDevitt.

The mystique of Conall and his legacy is hard to judge. Voters tell me he was good and that they miss him. He was the “go to” SDLP politician chalking up appearances on UTV and BBCNI…popular with journalists and the so called “progressive” hangers on in Politics….South Belfast is after all, the base for “letsgetalongerism” and the political Metrotextuals from Platform for Change and Queens University.

Yet, while SDLP retained its second seat in South Belfast (May 2011), Conall must have been disappointed that he was not the vote winning asset that he and his supporters believed.

Ultimately Conall had in less than four years been co-opted to the Assembly, stood as Party Leader and emerged as the obvious successor to Alasdair before taking the Dublin train to the Dublin business job. There is, no doubt he invested a heck of a lot of time and effort in the SDLP in South Belfast. But the other side of the coin is that a lot of people in SDLP South Belfast invested a lot of time and effort in Conall McDevitt and might (in September 2013) have felt let down by his sudden departure.

So I expect that balance to be redressed tonight. The Westminster Election last month,showed that five of the six Assembly seats can be called. The sixth seat is always marginal but SDLP seem to have the advantage. Fearghal and Claire are the best available duo to fight the constituency next year. Certainly Claire touches parts of South Belfast….the so called “progressives” in a way that other SDLP people cant. And being on the ticket will be a setback to Greens and Alliance.

Yet the co-option precedents near the end of an Assembly term are not good. Marietta Farrell, co-opted for Patricia Lewsley in Lagan Valley and Pól Ó Callaghan, co-opted for Mark Durkan in Foyle deserved better.

Problems? Well…by any standard, Claire Hanna is a formidable and gutsy and media savvy politician. I first encountered her when she was  on the SDLP Youth stall at a Queens University Freshers Day in September 2005.

She will rightly feel that she is now one of the Top Ten SDLP politicians in Norn Iron. But I think that it might be difficult for her to accept that she is the most junior MLA …#14 …on the SDLP benches. And best for her to stick to her allocated portfolio and not be pushing a broader “vision” until after she is (hopefully) elected along with Fearghal in May next year. There will be other younger SDLP people in the Assembly….more co-options….before the end of the current term.

Fearghal and Claire is a ticket that the members want.

To some extent, the selection of Fearghal and Claire is a distraction from something more interesting in South Belfast. Claire will likely stand down from the City Council and her co-opted replacement will be interesting.

EDIT……yeah I know I said I would not edit the post but worth pointing out that Slugger O’Tooles alleged cartoonist was not in attendance. Maybe he would have been tempted to portray a SDLP Selection Convention as a Nazi Rally. Anyway, Alan Meban was there and much given to describing it all as less than a selection and more a “coronation. Which is a tad tacky because the only other declared candidate Cllr Declan Boyle, very much an outsider withdrew from the contest. For the very understandable reason that BOTH of his parents have died in the past month.

Still Slugger does that kinda thing. It was a “coronation” because there was no “contest”. But a “contest” would have been portrayed as “division” in SDLP.

Anyway…..a pretty good morale-boosting night.



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4 Responses to SDLP Selection Convention South Belfast

  1. Derek says:

    The sdlp have done well under alasdair and Claire enhances the sdlp team . Some of the sf coopted mlas are less impressive. The sdlp seem to be in a renewal phase and people like Claire do a lot to broaden the sdlp appeal.

    • I think there will be more co-options….West Tyrone, East Derry and although it is open to abuse, it would do the “new faces” no harm.
      I am curious about Alliance in South Belfast. I am not totally convinced that Paula Bradshaw will be the candidate.
      In part this is because of a brief conversation at the recent Election Count. Understandably perhaps, all Alliance eyes were focussed on EastBelfast but I gotthe distinct impression that Ms Bradshaw was semi-detached. I suggested to an Alliance friend half-jokingly that Ms Bradshaw might be thinking in terms of East Antrim. I got a very serious answer.
      I have subsequently heard stuff that suggests that there is a certain logic in this.

  2. Séan says:

    I heard that she is not as sound on the national question. Don’t you think this type of SDLP politician will send young nationalists to voting for SF?

    • As I said in a blog entitled “Being a member of SDLP isa bit like being married” I think there is little to be gained from looking at the second preference option. I am content that at its best SDLP is a socialist, republican and nationaliist Party. Tbe first two are entirely compatible.
      To be a “republican” is to be a “socialist” and to be a “socialist” is to be a “republican”
      Its impossible NOT to be a “nationalist” whether Irish, British, Norwegian, Brazilian.
      I think the thing about Claire is that she believesthat doing the right thing in terms of general policy leads inevitably leads to a better position for republicanism.
      Can she broaden SDLP appeal with so called “progressives” without losing a traditional vote in the west.
      I think so.
      Two things…the loss of Naomi Long in East Belfast has opened up a new opportunity.
      A case of “The Queen is Dead…Long Live The Queen”…. Claire should get a lot of gigs on The View, The Nolan Show and the rest.
      From the Slugger O’Toole perspective, she is the acceptable face of SDLP.
      Of course the view that she is perceived can be articulated thru other people in South and West Belfast but its a minority position within SDLP. The nationalist dog wont be wagged by the “letsgetalongerist” tail.
      The acid test will be the position taken by SDLP in the early months of 2016 in respect of the Centenary of the Easter Rising, especially as there is an election almost immediately after the Event.

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