SDLP Event…Civil Society.

A high-quality discussion last night.


The panel….Brendan Mulgrew from MW Advocate, David McCann from Slugger O’Toole, Professor Deirdre Heenan from University of Ulster and Ryan Feeney a member of the Policing Board. Alasdair McDonnell in the chair.

Audience….hard to judge from my accidental position at the front…but I would reckon about 150 people. A diferent audience to the one I expected. Most seemed to be SDLP members, including MLAs Joe Byrne, Alaban Magenniss, Fearghal McKinney and Claire Hanna. And good to see old and new friends from Strabane, Rasharkin, Newry etc.

Brian O’Neill from Slugger O’Toole also there and a BBC camera crew interviewd Al before proceedings began.

I must admit I tended to think of the X Factor chairs. If only Al (like Simon Cowell) hd decided that he had decided to give David McCann’s chair to the artist known as Fitzjames Horse….to wild approval from the audience. Alas it did not happen …for this was an event for SDLP members to be exposed to the thinking from outside the Party.

I am on record…for years …as saying that SDLP should listen to its own voices. But I assume that Brendan Mulgrew (former Special Advisor to Sean Farren…..and as pointed out by “Brendan”,in a comment here yesterday, he has also been a staffer for Joe Hendron) is a Party member. And although I dont know if Ryan Feeney is a Party member, his thinking is probably not that far from SDLP views.

Deirdre is of course an academic and has no affiliation, it is fair to say that her appearances on “The View” are usually well received by SDLP members. A critical friend?

David McCann. He still talks…..shite. And thats kinda ok because he talks less shite than he used to. In part, he is less in awe of his own PhD than he was two years ago and seems to be comfortable in his role as a political commentator and academic. He is of course Deputy Editor of Slugger O’Toole…and that Message Board is no friend of SDLP.  But David is more likeable than the nastier end of Slugger…Spencer and Nixon, who have lowered the tone and Slugger’s standing in recent months. After the latest catastrophe yesterday, Mick Fealty might be motivated to impose his authority and Slugger’s reputation. As the blurb for last nights event stated…Mick Fealty is “Mr Slugger O’Toole”.

i digress. The format was that each panelist would make a statement and that the meeting would hear contributions from the floor.

I am not sure that the panelists stuck to their brief. Civil Society was hardly mentioned. Rather there was an analysis of how Stormont wasnt working.

Deirdre’s opening remarks were about Education and Skills and she highlighted the lack of co-ordination. She suggested that a programme for government be agreed after an election and before deciding on Ministers.

David highlighted the euphoria after 1998 and the falling turnouts in successive elcctions SDLP was losing votes thru people staying away from the polls.

Brendan said that in the past he had been accused of being too optimistic but the euphoria from 1998 had all disappeared but there had been progress. Peter Robinson had gone to a GAA match and Martin McGuinness had shaken hands with “the Queen”

Ryan…referenced Churchills quote about Democracy. Devolution was the worst form of Government, except for all the others. It had to be made to work. The “fringe” dictated the discussion. And he agreed with Deirdre that a programme of government should be agreed before the Ministers are appointed.

Six questions from the Floor.

“Is there really a crisis in Politics?”  …”Will Britain keep funding Norn Iron?”…..”are we more divided now than before?” ….”what about the Skills deficit in the Economy?” ….”how will a EU Referendum and potential British withdrawal from Europe affect politics here?” ….”what about Opposition?”

i think its fair to say that none of these questions directly or even indirectly referenced a role for Civil Society.I had anticipated that the audience would have made up of the usual suspects promoting themselves as much as any cause they purport to represent. I was wrong.

The questions asked effectively come with their own answers which is why I am dealing with them as a group of six, rather than as six individual Questions and Answers.

So I think it is enough to highlight miscellaneous soundbites.

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