The Queen’s Speech

The annual Christmas speech by Mrs Elizabeth Windsor is one of those things that is impossible to explain, mainly because I don’t actually watch it.

It is a curious throw-back to the 1950s. Listen to any left wing “woke” British stand-up comedian and he will talk about how their parents made him stand up at 3pm every Christmas Day and they all sang “God Save the Queen” at the end.

That is the thing about England. There are traditionalists for whom the Queens Speech is a patriotic duty. For English folks who read the Guardian, it is a farce.

And of course in our part of the world it is no different. Unionists love the Queen. Nationalists are indifferent and we boast about we have never actually seen or heard it. Was it 1985 or was it 1986 when nobody in our house could find the TV remote and I had to throw myself across the living room to switch the TV off manually. We still talk about that.

Back in 2012, the RTE Guide (the Irish TV listings magazine) kinda summed up our feelings. “The British monarch lectures her subjects” yes its childish and inappropriate and crass but aren’t we glad that a Republican minded Irishman got this past the sub editors of RTE Guide. It will be there forever.

Actually, the Queen’s Speech is kinda predictable. She mentions the Commonwealth….she is probably the only woman in England who gives a tinkers curse about the Commonwealth. And now that Barbados is a republic, there are very few people in the Commonwealth who are overly bothered about Elizabeth Windsor.

She also talks a lot about Family. Apparently this year, she did not dwell on Family. Andrew is still in hiding. And Harry and the Duchess of Somewhere and their babies also did not get a mention.

Does all this matter?

I think it does. As she approaches seventy years as monarch, it draws attention that the monarchy has missed two, maybe three generational opportunities to re-boot itself. Much is made of the modernising approach of Dukey Embra and the BBCs Huw Weldon in the late 1960s and 1970s. And of course the farcical “Its a Royal Knockout”, not to mention closer inspection of the business and private lives of the Royals.

The Royals is a curious soap opera. These are actors who are playing parts.

Rather like “Coronation Street” where hapless Ken Barlow was jailed for a week in the 1960s for a protest against nuclear weapons is played by arch Conservative, William Roache.

So Dukey Embra…that wonderful Scotsman was actually a part played by Philip (his surname is variable) an economic migrant from Greece.

The actors playing the parts of politically neutral royals are actually dyed in the wool Tories.

Fifty years ago, I used to walk down a corridor at work. The walls were plastered with faded newspaper cuttings dating to the Coronation of Elizabeth Windsor in the early 1950s.

It seems a million years ago. Charlie Chuck as my Auntie Sheila called him is a few years older than me. He might have been a lovable child and even looked like a Prince Charming. Now he looks like a befuddled, grumpy old git….as indeed do I.

Sometime in his late teens, he was made Prince of Wales (a new part for the actor to play) and classicly Prince Charming for most of the 1970s. But from Prince of Wales to Lady Di via deflowering every available English Rose, he is past his sell by date.

It is not necessarily ghoulish to think 2022 will be a big year for the English Royal Family. But surely a high watermark will be the Platinum Anniversary…70 years is no mean feat. By all accounts, Elizabeth is an excellent Queen (if you like that kinda thing) and is it ghoulish to think that she wont be around for ever. Her heir is now an elderly man himself…and that is not really supposed to happen.

It occurs to be that nobody has actually said “GOD Save the King!” in at least seventy years. Only one Coronation has ever been televised. And a person would have to be at least 75 years old to even remember Elizabeth’s predecessor.

The customary acknowledgement of a new monarch….how does that actually play out in the next five years. Will 5 year old children gather in school playgrounds to shout “GOD Save the King”?. Will BBC Newsreaders be compelled to say it?

Will Newsreaders in Norn Iron have to say it?

And within Stormont, what exactly is the new protocol for the death of a monarch and the coronation of a new one.

Two different dynamics. Might even be tears on Unionist benches. All of which seems reasonable. And it would be churlish for Sinn Féin and SDLP leaders to express sympathy across the aisle. It is the decent thing to do. She is after all a 95 year old lady who has given a life of service to (her) people.

But proclaiming “GOD Save the King” seems a step too far for any nationalist.

Yet it is hard to be neutral. How does Alliance react? Obviously a congratulations at Platinum time is appropriate. But joining in the acclamation for a monarch seems like a difficult step for a party that says there are both nationalists and unionists within its ranks.

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Councillor Carole Howard……..ex-Alliance

It is now ten days since Alliance Councillor Carole Howard (East Belfast) defected to Ulster Unionist Party.

I had hoped to read an in depth analysis of this on Slugger O’Toole. Alas I am disappointed. Surely the defection of a councillor from one party to another is newsworthy.

If a SDLP, UUP, DUP or Sinn Féin councillor had defected TO Alliance, would Slugger have considered it not to be newsworthy.

I cannot answer the question. I can merely point out that Slugger has a tendency to talk up the Alliance Party. And often engages in fantasy Politics.

Alliance enthusiasts think that the Alliance Party can get 16 seats (up from 8 seats) in May’s Assembly election. It seems on the outer edge of Reality. A high degree of wishful thinking.

But whatever about potential Alliance gains, the defection of Carole Howard to UUP is not a prediction. It is a fact.

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“Belfast” : The Movie

So I have just heard that a movie “Belfast”, directed by our very own (is he?) “Sir” Kenneth Branagh has been short-listed for an Oscar.

Some things are beyond Satire.

About 99.9% of us who have lived thru The Troubles think we have a talent to write about it all. I am no exception Of course my main talent is Procrastination.

Mostly I sit around telling to anyone who will listen what the Troubles (1969-1998) were all about. Of course, I do write it down but rarely in a considered way. There are of course two forms of Troubles literature…histories, memoirs, fiction, screenplay.

Belfast writer, Martin Lynch has a well received play “The Troubles According To My Da” . Personally I am not a fan of Lynch but the title of his play is brilliant. Yes I am one of several thousand “Da” type men who bore our children to death with our stories.

Films and TV productions about Norn Iron have a chequered history. Typically in the early days, square jawed British agents went undercover, seduced idealistic feisty red head whose father and brother were republican psychopaths.

For the record, the only good Norn Iron movie is “Resurrection Man”, essentially the story of the Shankhill Butchers. It is very true……and consequently unwatchable because of the sectarian cruelty.

Unionists ask why there is no movie depicting loyalists in a sympathetic light. I cant answer the quuestion. But I could ask the same about Nazi Germany, the Confederacy or the apartheid South African regime. I would guess it is hard to be sympathetic.

Is it that simply on the wrong side of History. Or is there a liberal Hollywood elite who think that colonisers and land grabbers are less lovable than the colonised. The Irish after all (in recent years at least) have been treated pretty well by Hollywood…..”Michael Collins” and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” for example.

The scary headmistress, Sister Michael (“Derry Girls”) has the best take on The Troubles. “The only thing you need to know about the Troubles is that we are the Goodies”. A sentence that demolishes every LetsGetAlongerist nonsense that one side is as bad as the other.

What does Kenneth Branagh bring that is new?

Well I think he brings three maybe contradictory things.

First off, he is a 60 year old man who was born in Belfast to working class parents. He left Belfast as a child, more or less as the Troubles were starting. He retains an affection for his Protestant, unionist roots, still a supporter of Linfield and (Glasgow) Rangers, very much part of that “culture”.

Secondly, he is a gifted writer, director and actor who in his early career was labelled as a “new Laurence Olivier” and perhaps also labelled as a stereotypical “luvvie”, an “actorrrrrr!) (sic).

Thirdly, he is a very “establishment” figure. “SIR” Kenneth Branagh is a unionist in that so called liberal English way…….not of course in the narrow “Norn Iron” way.

I sincerely hope “Belfast” does NOT win an Oscar. I detest anything that might be interpreted as a good news story for this God-awful entity that is Norn Iron. The word “Belfast” appears on my birth certificate. And I never want to see the word in any other other context.

There are however movies that seem like obvious Oscar winners because of the subject matter….”Mississippi’s Burning”, “Schindler’s List” and maybe “Michael Collins”. In a sense the Academy is voting for the theme as much as the movie itself.

Ricky Gervais (I am not a fan) touched on this in his series “Extras”. In that excellent series, Gervais played a jobbing “extra” in TV series and movies. In this capacity he met stars such as Patrick Stewart, Daniel Radcliffe and others.

Actually these guest stars played alternative exaggerated versions of themselves.

So……”Kate Winslett” or rather the exaggerated version of Kate Winslett was playing a nun in a WW2 movie and chatting about her role. It was a movie about the Holocaust and “Kate” had taken this role because playing this kinda part, she had a good chance of an Oscar.

Maybe I am too cynical. But that is how I see Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast”. It is a worthy subject….Photogenic children coming of age in civil war Norn Iron.

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Appalling Vistas

In the summer of 1966, a man called John Patrick Scullion was murdered in the Clonard area of West Belfast. It is the first killing of the (modern) Troubles.

He was shot outside his home and died two weeks later. Local people had heard gunshots. But the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigated the murder as a stabbing. A month after his burial, his body was exhumed and it was then determined that he had indeed been shot.

By any policing standards, that is total incompetence. Indeed by any medical standards, that is total incompetence.

So what happened to John Patrick Scullion? Well, a UVF gang led by Gusty Spence had set out to kill a Clonard-based republican, who had been active in organising the West Belfast parade for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Unable to get their target, they settled on shooting Mr Scullion, who had been drunkenly shouting “Up the IRA”.

The UVF had become active in response to Terence O’Neill’s liberal unionism.

I lived quite close to the Clonard area. My wife (then only 8 years old) lived in the Clonard area.

In 1966, I was 14 years old. I was old enough to go with my friends from our “mixed” street to play ad hoc games of football in Falls Park (west Belfast) and Woodvale (north) and Botanic, Ormeau and Lady Dixon (south). My father with memories from the 1930s would caution me to be careful but as a naive and optimistic teen, I knew those bad old days were over. Heck …it was over 30 years ago…ancient history.

Really that first sectarian murder and two more in 1966 did not really change things. It was 1969 before all Hell broke lose.

John Patrick Scullion …murder is murder. But somehow it feels that a shooting being classified as a stabbing is downgrading. Class and sectarianism are inter-mingled in Norn Iron. The worst (non-sectarian) insult from my youth was “you/he/she are/is a Nobody”…..unseen and unimportant. In that sense John Patrick Scullion was a “Nobody”.

Whatever his injuries………stabbing or shot….he was unseen. It did not matter, And the witnesses in Clonard area who heard the gunshots. Invisible. Nobodies.

Of course I was a Nobody also……..albeit a slightly different one who passed the “11 plus”. But my dread of abduction, torture and murder in the 1970s has not gone away. Names and faces from that naive football team or my school or workplace who had that fate haunt me.

I spent decades making myself (and sons and grandchildren) “Somebody”.

In 2013, my best friend, a remarkable historian invited me to Texas for two weeks to talk to her post grads about Conflict Resolution. As the lecture ended, a young man asked me how do young people feel about it all.

I gave a flippant answer that I dont know or understand anyone under forty.

But the real answer is that some young people tell me that everything is different now and other young people tell me that nothing has changed. THEY ARE BOTH WRONG.

I am terrified for my grandchildren.

One of the awful clichés of the 1970s was “the Royal Ulster Constabulary are keeping an open mind”. It was so common that it was joked about in West Belfast…..”a Catholic man was found strangled, stabbed, shot and beaten to death on the Shankill Road…….police are keeping an open mind as to the motive”. I apologise for the dark humour but I have to be honest.

In fairness, police should initially have an “open mind” and maybe even be sensitive about spreading fear into a community.

We have a narrative that it is all over. I believed it was all over in the 1960s. My father cautioned me to careful where I went. Like I caution an 18 year old and a 14 year old.

John Patrick Scullion was the first victim of the (modern) Troubles. His death was marginalised.

Could that happen again?

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Slugger O’Toole…You Couldn’t Make It Up

I note that Mick Fealty begins one of his posts with

“Say what you like about Brian Feeney”, the nationalist minded journalist.

I think Mr Fealty is being ironic. I was tempted to reply “can I say what I like about Eoghan Harris?”

But I probably can’t.

Say what you like about Mick Fealty but he is consistent. Or maybe he is not consistent.

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Line Of Duty

So 8pm on Sunday night and in an hour, I will be tuning into Line of Duty (season 6 episode 6). The writing, the acting and the drama itself are brilliant. And the fact that five of the six series have used Belfast as a location helps.

Maybe it is a feature of LockDown giving us all a sense of virtual community. But the cliffhangers and the Twitter feeds speculating what happens next week gives it all a sense of occasion.

But it all covers up a plot that is too unrealistic that suspension of belief is more required than in any drama I can remember.

There have been six series of six or seven episodes beginning in 2010.

The plot is an ongoing battle between AC12 (the Anti Corruption unit) at the fictional Central Police …the first series was made on location in Birmingham….and an OCG (Organised Criminal Gang) which has infiltrated the police.

Personally I find it difficult to think that so many senior police officers do not seem to know each other and that a police service this corrupt would not be disbanded. The number of police officers good and bad, killed in six series is a multiple of how many police officers have actually been killed…in the line of duty.

The theme is that the each season, the finale leads to more questions and so the next season has a link to the past season. A character, half forgotten from series 2 shows up in series 5 and so on. So a viewer needs to be attentive.

The three good guys or seemingly good guys are Supt Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), DI Steve Arnott (Martin Compson). Hastings and Arnott have both come under suspicion as being a mole for the OCG.

But it is Supt Ted Hastings “like the battle” who is most enigmatic.

In part, there are two story-lines. One seems like criminal activity in the midlands of England and the other that runs alongside is related to Ted’s past in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

That is Edward Gerard Hastings, who was born to a Protestant father and Catholic mother and who joined the RUC. As he said in series one, this was unusual for a Catholic. Memorably he claimed he was injured in a bomb explosion…in which a fellow Catholic officer was killed…..seemingly set up by a fellow officer.

In series five it emerged that Ted had a Catholic lover who fed him information from the IRA and she was subsequently killed as a “tout”. He moved to England.

In private conversation with a suspect…a retired senior officer and later convicted of child abuse, Arnott notices that Ted shakes hands with the suspect. It is a masonic handshake, unusual for a Catholic. But is Ted merely using it to gain trust?

The officer who cost Hastings his savings and his marriage and who attempted to bribe him is ex-RUC.

In this (sixth and probably final) series, there are hints at corruption in broader society. When Ted angrily denounces the new Chief Constable “we appoint proven liars to highest positions”, is he referencing Boris Johnson? The death in custody (years before the first series) of black student “Christopher Stephens” is a reference to the institutionalised racism in the cases of Stephen Lawrence and Christopher Adler.

And surely the doctored photographs of fictional police paedophiles with Jimmy Savile is a nod in the direction of VIP paedophile rings. And maybe the fictional “Sands” Childrens Home is a reference to Belfast’s very own Kincora.

To some extent, the “Ted-isms”…….Hastings used Belfast phrases. “I didnt come up the Lagan in a bubble”, “sucking diesel”, “cooking with gas” underscores the Norn Iron dimension to all of this.

As Ted himself might say, he is “the big lad in the big picture”.

Of course all Line of Duty fans have theories as it is believed Jed Mercurio plants little nuggets. The main OCG man the unseen, undiscovered “H” is it Hastings, is there a clue in the pattern of the kitchen tiles in Steph Corbetts house in Liverpool ….or is there a clue in “dont believe the race claim”…….as “race claim” is a near anagram of “Carmichael” without the H….a police character.

But last weeks episode (oops it is 8.58pm…lucky I am recording the programme) provided evidence of the Norn Iron link. Ted looks at a photograph of a group of RUC sergeants. Is the man who set Ted up one of them?

And a retired Central police detective living in Spain ….we saw his photograph last week will be played by our own, our very own Jimmy Nesbitt.

So is “H” the OCG chief an ex RUC man.

Surely not. I hope the DUP ask questions in the House of Commons and write to the BBC.

On a personal note, I have a lot of time for Adrian Dunbar. He wrote a movie “Hear My Song” some twenty five years ago, in which my fathers cousin, A Dublin-based actor had a part. And I saw him at the Fermanagh-Armagh GAA Ulster Final about ten years ago.

But Irish actors……their success, Dunbar, Nesbitt, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea and southerners like Colm Meaney, Gabriel Byrne…………in a way they are following a path that older actors, J G Devlin, Lily Begley, Joe Tomelty, Harry Towb……….David Kelly, Noel Purcell and many others made for them.

In the 1950s and 1960s Irish actors were confined to “Oirish parts” …my father knew Jimmy Devlin and Lily Begley……….and ultimately it was The Troubles that gave young Irish actors to play the routine “gunman” type parts and led to better things.

I hope I am right. I hope it was the RUC. Or the Freemasons.

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Chooky Embra RIP

Sympathy to Mrs Elizabeth Windsor on the death of her hubby.

Thoughts and Prayers with Nicholas Witchell (BBC Royal Correspondent) at this difficult time.

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Lady GaGa & Moore Holmes

Several years ago I saw Lady Gaga on TV. She had a telephone on her head.

One of the great pleasures in getting old is that I do not have to keep up with pop culture references. I resolved several years ago that I would never listen to any music by Lady Gaga or ever take her under my notice. I was disappointed to see her at President Biden’s Inaugaration in January. She did not have a telephone on her head.

Moore Holmes? Well Mr Holmes is the Lady Gaga of loyalist politics.

I have seen the name twice in the last week. And there were references to him on the Slugger O’Toole message board today. I was none the wiser because the references were from people I have blocked on Slugger O’Toole.

So earlier today, I resolved that (just like Lady Gaga), I did not want to know anything about him.

So now that he is the next best hope for Loyalism, I was not exactly surprised to see him interviewed on UTV News tonight. Luckily I was able to press the “mute button” before I heard anything that Mr Holmes had to say.

It is always interesting when one of the commentators/commenters from Norn Iron social media or blogging gets into the mainstream. Chris Donnelly, David McCann, Sarah Creighton, Alan Meban, Mick Fealty….a conveyor belt of talent with no end in sight.

For the record, Mr Holmes was not wearing a telephone on his head.

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That’s Another Storey (sic)

The news that the Crown Prosecution Service will not be prosecuting anyone over the Bobby Storey funeral last June will shock nobody. To be clear, nobody will be shocked cos that’s how Norn Iron works.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56581056

In strict legalistic terms, the statement issued by CPS is probably correct.

They cite two reasons for inaction. One is more credible than the other.

1…the restrictions had been changed so many times up to June that people would have been confused about what the numbers should be

.Let us be honest…that is bollox. By no stretch of the imagination could hundreds of people attending a funeral have been regarded as within the law or the spirit of the law.

2…the organisers had been in prior contact with the Police Service of Norn Iron and had maybe got the impression that the funeral was “approved”. And hence, the chances of conviction would have been negligible.

Well “chances of conviction” is the great “get out of jail card” (literally) that the CPS always uses. “”Guilty as hell but we can do nothing about it” is maybe a less well known legal term but we get the drift.

About two thirds of people who read this Blog live outside Norn Iron and might want to ask who was Bobby Storey. My own answer is the mantra that has sustained me for fifty odd years “Whatever you say, say nothin'”.

Or I can direct you to a blog post about an Easter Rising commemoration event that I posted about on 3rd February 2015, at which Mr Storey was a keynote speaker.

There is a curious protocol about uber republicans. They tend to self identify as “ex-prisoners”. It is a curious code that says something but implies something else.

Bobby Storey was an ex-prisoner. He was an ex-prisoner on several occasions. He liked being an ex-prisoner so much that he actually escaped from prison.

Understandably he is a folk hero in uber-republican circles.

The people who attended Bobby Storey’s funeral are uber republicans and would say that they are “ex prisoners”. Some might be more fulsome and say “ex political prisoners”.

To people who support uber republicans this is all we need to know. To people who are curious, a follow up question is legitimate. I know ex-prisoners who were totally innocent (we had a very flawed judicial system). I know others who were internees who were never convicted of any crime.

But let us be honest, some were atcually convicted of serious crimes. Of course many will say that these were political crimes which were committed during the Conflict…it was, they would say, a War. And they were Prisoners of War.

The Good Friday Agreement had a proviso that such prisoners got out of prison. Most of us accepted this when we got to vote for the Agreement in 1998.

Most believe it was the right thing to do.

Storey’s death and funeral could not be expected to pass without a show of respect or a show of strength from his old friends and comrades.

We all get that. It would always have been a show of respect and a show of strength.

But in June last year, we were in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Restrictions .legally enforceable were placed on numbers and behaviour at funerals. These were agreed by the Stormont Executive and therefore agreed by uber-Republicans, Michelle O’Neill (joint First Minister), Conor Murphy (Minister for Finance) and Deirdre Hargey (Minister for Communities)…all members of Sinn Féin.

So the people breaking the law at the funeral had actually agreed to the very laws they had imposed. Of course the Storey funeral would in normal circumstances been regarded as an insult by unionists. In the year of Covid19, Sinn Féin managed to turn it into a slap in the face for everyone in Norn Iron.

And Sinn Féin got away with it…because they CAN. Adverse publicity (including shameful pandering by Belfast City Council at Storey’s cremation) would last a few days, weeks, months but be a memory in May 2022, when the next Assembly Elections are held.

Uber Republicans are really a coalition of (usually younger) Sinn Féin members who have grown into adulthood after the Troubles ended. They are often referred to as “clean skins”. The other part of the coalition is (usually older) men and women who are ex-prisoners with a whiff of cordite.

Importantly for Sinn Féin’s coalition, the “clean skins” with their degrees in Politics have to pay a certain amount of homage to the “cordite faction”, educated at the University of Long Kesh.

On a personal level, I am offended by the arrogance of it all. In May last year, I lost a cousin in North Antrim and I could not attend her funeral. Just two days later, a close family friend died locally. She had fought a brave battle against Cancer. Only fifteen people were allowed inside the Church. My immediate family followed the funeral service in our cars in the car park.

And in January this year, I lost a cousin (81) to Covid. And my family and I stood on the roadside as the hearse began its 22 mile journey to a funeral service in a small village.

So am I angry? Of course I am.

What will I do about it? Nothing. Next year I will give SDLP my first preference vote and give Sinn Féin my second preference. Just like I intended to do before Covid19.

Like I said Sinn Féin got away with it……because they CAN.

Political consequences? Well SDLP are leading a vote of censure. It is of course “playing politics” but sometimes “playing politics” is the right thing to do. The alternative would be just going along with the arrogance.

Reasonable people might think that Arlene Foster might call on Michelle O’Neill to resign or whatever. But that is pointless as Sinn Féin could simply withdraw from the Executive and it would collapse. If O’Neill resigns…..Foster would be sacking herself.

But Arlene Foster has called on the Chief Constable to resign. Apparently…yet again, PSNI have “lost the confidence of the unionist community”. DUP are simply going thru the motions.

Nothing will happen. The CPS is “reviewing” its decision but it is all nonsense.

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SDLP Youth…47 Years Ago (My Part in Their Success)

Best wishes to SDLP Youth who are holding their annual conference today.

It is a little known fact that in early 1974, Paddy Devlin drove my friend Mary and me to a SDLP meeting at the Dunowen Inn, in Dungannon.

We made a presentation on forming a SDLP Youth Section. We made the presentation to the Organisation sub-Committee who included Murtagh Dynan from North Belfast and John Turnley from North Antrim. John was later murdered by loyalists.

Frankly in 1974, SDLP were not very interested in a Youth movement. Dan McAreavey, then the Deputy General Secretary gave me some space in the first issue of the “Social Democrat”, the short-lived party newspaper.

We did have one meeting, attended by maybe ten or twelve people. One of the attendees was Alban Magennis, later to be first nationalist/republican mayor of Belfast.

We also got a letter from a 16 year old girl in South Down. But I did not even have the manners to reply cos ….well I was 21 and mature and well 16 year olds.

I often agonised if I had discouraged her from a career in politics. But actually she went on to be SDLP Leader (hooray). I could add she left the party and became a member of the “House of Lords”. But we will gloss over that.

The point is that attempts to form SDLP Youth in 1974 failed miserably. You won’t find a copy of the first issue of “Social Democrat” in SDLP Headquarters and you wont even find a reference to the 1974 attempt in SDLP Youth’s wikipedia entry.

I edited the wikipedia entry once to include 1974 but my edit was deleted.

The thing I find most strange about SDLP is that it has made some wonderful history but is very careless about its own history. I am not bothered by lack of reference to myself but I actually DO care that the first wave of SDLP people from the 1970s are often forgotten, even by senior figures in the party.

Few acknowledge the contribution of Desmond Gillespie, Vincent McCloskey, Hugh News, Paddy O’Hanlon, John O’Hagan, Paddy O’Donoghue, Hugh Logue, Michael Canavan and many many others.

It was heartbreaking to attend a tribute to Paddy Devlin …maybe two years ago in St Marys University on Falls Road. Sitting there listening to Seamus Lynch, Republican Clubs/Workers Party boast that thanks to Devlin and Gerry Fitt, he knew more about what was going on in SDLP than its members did.

Sheesh after 40 odd years, the Truth came out. At the time I was the Secretary of the Falls Branch of SDLP. If I felt quiet anger at this, it was sadly a cause of great amusement to senior (modern) SDLP figures there.

It is good SDLP recognises that in the 21st century, “youth politics” is so important. The neglect in the 1970s meant that the 1980s and 1990s, few promising young people came thru the ranks and SDLP was stigmatised as “a party for old men”.

Of course the 21st century brought Colum Eastwood, Daniel McCrossan, Cara Hunter and others into the Assembly and there is a second wave in councils. And a third wave working their way thru constituency offices, local branches, the Youth SEction and the Womens Section, Disability Section and LGBT Section.

A Youth Section in Politics is a bit like a Youth Team in Sport.

A successful minor Camogie team is often (but not always) an indicator that there will be a good senior team in a few years. A good GAA football team that wins an all Ireland minor title will often have players who pick up the Sam Maguire in a few years.

About ten years ago, I started blogging and attended a few SDLP Youth events. To some extent they were students influenced by Conall McDevitt. Some were really outstanding. Seamus de Faoite and Malachy Quinn are among those who made it into council chambers i Belfast and Mid Ulster.

But others did not make it. That is the nature of Youth Politics and Youth Sport. There is a high rate of attrition. The SDLP lost some good younger thru the connexion to Fianna Fáil. THere is always a high risk of disilulusionment and of course, it is perfectly feasible to serve outside politics…the legal profession, journalism, public relations, whatever. There are also too many young talented people who were treated very badly by SDLP.

SDLP will need people who hold SDLP values in broader “civic society”.

The worst day for SDLP Youth was the annual (senior) SDLP Conference where they succeeded in taking about half the positions on the Part Executive. They over-reached themselves.

But that is the whole nature of Youth Politics. You get to make mistakes. And the more mistakes you make, the more you learn.

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