I am of course a man from West Belfast. I still feel like that even though I only lived there from 1952 to 1979.
Of course I usually worked in Belfast but oddly I have never felt totally at ease anywhere since 1978.
In SDLP terms I joined Falls Branch of SDLP in 1973. It was just after the Council Elections. I did not vote. And just after the murder of SDLP man, Paddy Wilson, a friend of my father.
I think I felt guilty that I told Paddy I would not be voting. But after his murder, I was canvassing for SDLP in West Belfast.
I was the youngest person in the Falls Branch. And 1973 was not a good time to get involved in Politics. Obviously the British Army were on the streets, the Provos were out. And of course the Republican Clubs (the Stickies…later rebranded as Workers Party) gave us a hard time.
Oddly the Stickies gave us a harder time than the Provos. Why so? Well the Stickies were electoral rivals of SDLP.
But the Provos……their political wing was little more than the parents, wives, relatives of IRA prisoners……they were usually much nicer to us. Why so? In simple terms,,,they needed SDLP. Often to get a son or husband out of a police station.
I remember after the branch meeting (above a chip shop on Glen Road) driving to aRUC station with Desmond Gillespie MLA and a distraught mother. A few nights later, the distraught mother was picketing about SDLP outside Dessie’s house at Gransha.
Of course the West Belfast SDLP politicians at that time were Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin, Desmond Gillespie (probably the nicest man in politics) and Dr Joe Hendron. And Mary Muldoon (then Sullivan). Alex Attwood came later.
Certainly the local Party was damaged by the defections of Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin. Despite Alex’s best efforts, it never really recovered. The absence of electoral politics, the rise of Sinn Féin contributed.
It almost seems that in 2022, SDLP in West Belfast is at Ground Zero. Which makes the relatively unknown Paul Doherty an interesting choice for the upcoming Assembly election.
I have never met Paul Doherty he has been a major presence on Twitter for a while. And extremely active….but he has really two distinct profiles….one is directly political but the other is in terms of founding and running a Food Bank.
SDLP are quietly confident about a good result and I always think it is a good thing to see community activism beyond the narrow “party political policy”. SDLP surprised many in North Belfast at the last council elections when Paul McCusker was elected with double the quota on the first count. Much of that can be attributed to his work as a anti drugs activist.
In many ways this is the key to electoral success……a combination of political action and activism within a particular field or charity which brings in a personal vote.
Sinn Féin has (not withstanding Gerry Carroll holding a seat for People Before Profit) given the impression that West Belfast from Castle Street to Twinbrook is a one-party state but the reality is that quite a lot of people do not like Sinn Féin.
But will that vote rally behind Paul Doherty?
I hope so.
Thanks for this profile. I am hoping for a gain in West Belfast. You are quite kind to Alex Attwood. I like Alex Attwood but the years from 2000 to 2017 were all years of decline on Alex Attwoods time as the face of the SDLP. Partly why I like Alex is perhaps also his problem…he was a bit too academic / lawyer like and did not have the common touch. But to be fair to Alex he faced a formidable force in SF as it rose in the early 2000s.
He was undermined a lot by Sinn Féin.
SDLP seem to be bringing in “new faces” and some are quite interesting.
Paul Doherty is a really decent, hard working and community spirited guy. He would be an excellent MLA for all of the people of West Belfast and I hope he makes it. It will be tough.
Yes. Totally agree.
Paul Doherty has deep community roots and ,like Paul McCusker, is genuinely motivated to make a difference in his area.
I think while he may not climb the hill this time, he could produce a surprise.
He might be transfer-friendly and that could make the difference.
In some ways this is “back to the future”.
Original SDLP members were heavily involved in “community” eg John Hume and Credit Unions.