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All across the island candidates distance themselves from party… odd that. May 15, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The North, Unionism.

Sure, the running joke about the Fianna Fáil campaign, with the worlds smallest logo attached to the posters, is good enough. And I note Pat Leahy in the Sunday Business Post is running a competition for the best example of same. That sort of backing swiftly away from a source of possible contention tells us all we need to know about the enthusiasm of the various candidates to run as individuals or members of their parties. I’m not sure how it will work in practice. It’s not like they can hide their affiliation, although as mentioned here recently, perhaps the more likely strategy will be running against the party centre where everyone becomes rugged individualists eager to criticise Cowen et al. We’ll see. Or those of us who’ve already had candidates at the door have seen.

By contrast, as has been noted elsewhere, Labour is pushing hard with posters of Eamon Gilmore asking us to Vote Labour. That’s a good strategy which one hopes will work better than the abysmal 1997 Progressive Democrat campaign where every candidate shared poster space with the looming figure of Mary Harney. Our beloved Minister for Health was, as it happens, quite popular going into the election and regarded as an asset. However, she had the misfortune to make a series of incendiary comments about unmarried mothers which collapsed her poll ratings in a precipitous fashion. Cue scores of PD candidates wishing that they could cut the photo of Mary from the posters where it was stuck for the rest of the campaign, an albatross – or worse – at their shoulders.

Meanwhile, reports from opposite ends of the island bring oddly similar news. For example, in the South constituency, curiously, Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott has sought to put some clear blue water between herself and the blandishments of the Chairman.

Kathy Sinnott yesterday moved to distance herself from Libertas after its founder Declan Ganley said he would welcome her re-election to the European Parliament.

South is the one constituency where Libertas is not running a candidate and Mr Ganley said he would welcome the re-election of Ms Sinnott, who like Libertas, also campaigned for a No vote in last year’s Lisbon Treaty referendum.

But Ms Sinnott said she didn’t believe that Mr Ganley’s comment amounted to an endorsement of her candidature and stressed that she was contesting the June 5th election as an Independent and was not associated with the group

Hmmm… Sinnott is no fool so this seems an interesting straw in the wind. Perhaps the Libertas campaign, red in tooth and claw is just a little rich for her blood. And, perhaps too, taking a leaf out of their play book she couldn’t resist a swipe…

“I don’t think of his comment as an endorsement – Libertas are not contesting Ireland South and I think the reality is that they didn’t think that they would win a seat here,” said Ms Sinnott who took the third seat in 2004.

And they do in Dublin? Or the East constituency?

She goes further…

“If Libertas had run a candidate here, it’s possible that I might have lost some votes to them so it’s good for me that they are not running somebody but that’s a matter for them and has nothing to do with me,” she said.

Nothing to do with me – eh? Clearly the brand isn’t quite as seductive as might have been anticipated.

And Sinnott appears to be positioning herself very very slightly differently to Libertas…

Earlier this year at a meeting at Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, Mr Ganley spoke of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but yesterday Ms Sinnott, who is opposed to abortion, stressed she held different views to Mr Ganley on other issues.

I’d love to know what they are… perhaps someone could enlighten us.

Meanwhile, turning to the North we can see problems facing the Ulster Unionists, or should that be the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force, or no, perhaps just the Ulster Unionists.

For Syvia Hermon, MEP for the Ulster Unionists, has said she’s not going to stand under the UC&U – NF name. Actually it goes a bit further than that although it’s not fully parsed out.

The sole Ulster Unionist MP has said she will not stand for Westminster under the joint UUP-Conservative election pact formally announced in February.

Lady (Sylvia) Hermon said yesterday she could not stand under the “Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force” banner when she defends her North Down seat at the next British general election expected next year.

“At the present time, I can’t see myself standing under a Conservative banner,” she said, explaining simply that she is “not a Tory”.

Now that’s an admirable statement to make and one has to applaud it. But it’s problematic, to put it mildly. Is she saying in the next statement that she would leave the party?

She said she was elected as an Ulster Unionist: “If my party chooses to move to call themselves by a different name, I’m terribly sorry and terribly disappointed by that, but I remain an Ulster Unionist,” she said. “That was certainly my mandate and I’ve loved serving the people of North Down.”

Or does the last sentence imply that she would go independent?

One has to sympathise with her, but also perhaps to a limited degree with Reg Empey…

Party leader Sir Reg Empey responded last night, saying Lady Hermon’s remarks were a challenge to “party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues”.

Sir Reg, in a statement which portrayed the North Down MP as out of step with party opinion, said the decision was democratically and unanimously endorsed. “[The] North Down constituency was fully represented by all its delegates who unanimously voted in favour of the proposals.” he said.

“Her own position is not an issue in the present campaign. She was assured last year that she would not be required to take the Conservative Party whip in the lifetime of the present parliament. Candidate selection for the general election is not yet under way, meaning that any decisions regarding her own selection process in North Down do not have to be made at this point. This makes the timing of her statements all the more disappointing.”

Has the party left her or is she leaving the party?

To be honest the UUP/Conservative lash up has never struck me as that sensible a proposition. While I can understand the logic of attempting to sidle up to the probable victor of the next election (and in doing so to carve back some space and authority from the DUP – not least in the hope and expectation that the Tories might be a little bit more likely to underwrite a ‘voluntary coalition’ reworking of the GFA/BC – and there’s the bait that Cameron dangled of UUP MPs sitting in a Tory government… just so it fulfills his wish for NI to become a ‘normal’ part of the UK. Hmmmm) it seems to be attempting to push Northern Irish political activity into categorisations that defy realities on the ground.

If the UUP is a party of the centre right, or right as we are talking about the Conservatives, then where does that leave the DUP? A populist centre-right party? And then what definitions do we ascribe to the SDLP and Sinn Féin, or does this positioning only operate on the Unionist axis? And that begs the question how does this work in practice? Does the UUP hope to capture right-leaning votes from Nationalists? To ask the question is to recognise that left and right politics isn’t so easily generated in the sort of context we see in the North.

So this attempt to hammer the round peg of Ulster Unionism into the square hole of a specific right wing ideological framework seems inappropriate, at best. The UUP has always appeared to be a broader coalition of interests than that. Sure, tilted towards the centre right but also with a strain of social liberalism and even in areas something approaching social democratic thinking on economic matters. And that strand would identify with British liberalism or new Labourism as much if not more easily than with Conservatism.

Perhaps the calculation is that the shiny new Conservative party under Cameron is sufficiently liberal and metropolitan to allow those who might have demurred in the past from joining with them. Yet paradoxically Empey must curse the day when the only surviving UUP MP is from the liberal wing of the party as distinct from those who fell at the last election who might have had less qualms about the merger – or whatever one chooses to term this coalescence.

And in a way it points up that for all the distinctions between Northern and Southern political activity the similarities in terms of parties being broad coalitions that cross or encompass different ideological lines is found both sides of the border. How could it be otherwise when in a very real sense the parties have been shaped by that border and by their responses to it?

And there’s an oddity here…a ‘trusted’ source in the UUP argues in the IT that:

Lady Hermon could simply stand as an Ulster Unionist at the next election and that there was room for such an arrangement.

“Technically she could do that,” the source said.

Which certainly seems to point to the question as to why this has all come into the public domain now.

A lot will depend on Harmon’s plans for the future, and one might reasonably wonder what they might be, but one also presumes that however rueful Reg Empey is about the current situation he might be even less enchanted to lose that only surviving MP. Which might explain why his language remains rather nebulous in his response.

“The Party Officers and Executive Committee of the Ulster Unionist Party have unanimously agreed, with the Conservative Party, to jointly endorse her UUP colleague Jim Nicholson as the ‘Conservatives and Unionists’ candidate in the Euro Election.

“The leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party is disappointed that Lady Hermon, in the middle of an election campaign, has chosen to give a series of interviews in which she has challenged Party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues.

‘Throughout last year and into 2009, we held many discussions at Party Executive level, held roadshows for our members on numerous occasions and ultimately put proposals for a Memorandum of Understanding to our Executive for approval. This very democratic process resulted in two separate meetings of our Executive where the relevant decisions were taken on unanimous recommendations from our Party Officers. At these well attended meetings not a single vote was cast against the proposals. At both of these meetings, our North Down constituency was fully represented by all its delegates who unanimously voted in favour of the proposals.’

“Her own position is not an issue in the present campaign. She was assured last year that she would not be required to take the Conservative Party whip in the lifetime of the present Parliament. Candidate selection for the General Election is not yet underway, meaning that any decisions regarding her own selection process in North Down do not have to be made at this point. This makes the timing of her statements all the more disappointing.

“The Ulster Unionist Party and Conservative Party will continue with our joint campaign to bring real change to politics in Northern Ireland. We will continue with our campaign to create a new political and electoral force which offers the electorate here an opportunity to be part and parcel of a new pan-UK unionism”.

‘I want it to be clear that we have charted a democratic course for the UUP which has been fully endorsed by our Party. Having come through the traumas of the Belfast Agreement, where we had to ask people to work with self confessed republicans, I am confident that working with a Conservative Party which is enthusiastically committed to the Union and the end of British Government neutrality on Northern Ireland, will prove attractive to our members and the wider pro-Union electorate[BTW, they omit the full stop on their website]

So, is she in or out of the party? We don’t know, he doesn’t tell and I’ll bet she’s not fully decided.

But there’s another important issue in that text. Note what he says in the final sentence… no, not the bit about ‘self-confessed Republicans’, although that indicates a certain hardening up of language, but the next bit…

…I am confident that working with a Conservative Party which is enthusiastically committed to the Union and the end of British Government neutrality on Northern Ireland,

This, of course, links right into that pitch, mentioned above, by the UUP to rework the GFA/BA. I think, personally, that continued British Government neutrality (although what that means in practice is a useful question) would be no harm (and there’s an equally strong case for the RoI to keep calm too, although the economic crisis appears to have generated that dynamic all on its own). Tinkering around with the Agreement is of dubious utility and potentially quite dangerous, not least in the context of continuing threats from dissident Republicanism. Worth coming back to soon.

BTW, interesting debate on this issue over at Slugger which details local nuances with more knowledge and detail than I ever could.

As does this by Splintered Sunrise which draws a hitherto unthinkable comparison between Sylvia Hermon and… no, no, I’d suggest people read it… 🙂


1. Damian O'Broin - May 15, 2009

Have you seen young Callelly’s posters up in Fairview? He appears to be running for the facebook party. And he’s telling us that ‘We need real change now’ – so why are you in FF then Ronan?


2. Paddy Matthews - May 15, 2009

Ms Sinnott, who is opposed to abortion, stressed she held different views to Mr Ganley on other issues

At a guess, I’d imagine that pro-life Catholicism and a skeptical attitude towards further European integration doesn’t necessarily imply an enthusiasm for capitalism red in tooth and claw on her part.


3. Craig - May 15, 2009

Paddy, I have attended talks by Ms Sinnott and spoken to her a few times, and I think you have a point. Indeed, while her social beliefs are conservative and traditionalist (“right-wing”), her views on the issues of welfare, care for the disabled, promoting rural industries etc. suggest a worldview more complex than the simple labels applied to her by some commentators. I live in the South constituency and would prefer to support her over Libertas (not really relevant since Ganley’s crowd have no candidate here).


4. Leveller on the Liffey - May 15, 2009

Ronan Callely’s poster puzzled me too, Damian.

What exactly does Callely Junior feel needs changing NOW – just Dublin City Council (controlled by his and Daddy’s Fianna Fáil party) or the Government (controlled by, er, his and Daddy’s Fianna Fáil party)?


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