(by Gearoid O'Caireallain, Irelandclick.com)
July 8, 2002
I was speaking to a certain well-known Sinn Féin councillor last May, just before the elections in the Republic, and we were chewing the fat and contemplating the situation and reading tea leaves and staring into a misty crystal ball in an effort to divine how many seats his party might gain in the forthcoming poll.
And out of the blue he says that he wasn’t all that interested anyway because he likes to get involved about a year before the elections and get to work out strategy and tactics at that stage. Advance planning and forward looking, and all that.
So I got back to him this week and asked him to give me the inside track on next year’s elections for the Stormont Assembly, because he surely must be up to his oxsters in advance planning and forward looking at this stage.
He looked at me sideways in a slanty-eyed manner practised only by old conspirators and guys doing the double; all right, I sighed, yes, forgot about that . . . Mum’s the word, touch the nose with the forefinger, Boss, and a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind banana . . .
Tiocfaidh ár lá . . . old habits, know what I mean?
My over-sensitive, conspiratorial republican strategist may be determined to keep schtum about the tactics for next May, but his party and virtually all the other parties have already set their campaign wheels in motion.
Polling day may still be ten months away, but in party political terms ten months is but a short sojourn, so the struggle for media attention has had to be engaged, even if the official announcement of the election date is still a lifetime away.
Trimble’s at it, electioneering, I mean. And he needs all the help he can get because the word on the street is that he is in trouble. I know it’s all supposed to be a foreign country to him, but you can bet your bottom Euro that David the Dapper kept a close eye on the fortunes of Fine Gael.
The northern Unionist electorate could well deliver him a message very similar to that which the southern electorate presented to Michael Noonan and Fine Gael. So in the tried and tested good old Unionist tradition, Trimble has decided to talk tough, shout and yell.
In fact he has been going round so vociferously recently telling the media, the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach that the IRA has abandoned its ceasefire and that Sinn Féin should therefore be duly drummed out of the Assembly that he might well be in danger of precipitating a real crisis in the Peace Process.
And it is July, after all. He won’t be dancing a fourhand reel on the Garvaghy Road with Big Ian this year, but he does want to impress upon the Unionist voter that he is a tough cookie. So he huffs and puffs about the IRA and demands action, and announces that the Orangemen should be forced down the Garvaghy Road this year, knowing that he is serving a double purpose.
On the one hand all that fighting talk always sounds great to loyal brethren ears when the sash is on and the big drum beating, the brolly in hand and the bowler on top.
And at the same time the daily dose of publicity has got his undeclared election campaign off to a great start. Paisley may be able to rant and rave at the field, but David can summon the British Prime Minister to an emergency meeting any time he feels like it . . .
The SDLP got their election campaign off to a flying start with the announcement that the party was to have a new logo. Duly revealed by Mark Durkan, it was explained that the colour orange was added to the party’s official livery as an attraction for potential members and supporters - not to mention voters - from the opposite community, you know, the, ahem, Protestants. They nearly got a week out of that particular wheeze, so whether it actually works or not, it has served its initial purpose.
But you have to hand it to the Shinners. As always, they took the biscuit. Alex Maskey (Assembly candidate in the South Belfast area) gets elected Lord Mayor. The Unionists are up in arms (always good for Sinn Féin candidates) and just when you think all hell has already broken loose and the apocalypse is nigh on hand, what does Mayor Maskey do? He takes over their precious Somme Commemoration. I mean, is nothing sacred?
Now that republicans can lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, the Unionists will hardly want to do it anymore.
I had to laugh, though, at the sight of Johnny Adair, dressed to kill in a suit and tie, going to visit the Secretary of State and announce, yes, you’ve guessed, his decision to stand as a candidate next May. I ask you, what is the world coming to? Not so long ago, Adair was standing in the middle of a crew of balaclava-clad loyalist paramilitary heavies on the Shankill Road, threatening murder and mayhem. Now he too announces his unannounced election campaign.
Next May could well be the most important election campaign since partition, so no wonder the parties are anxious to get ahead. As usual, the big interest will be the struggle between the UUP and the DUP on the one side, and the SDLP and Sinn Féin on the other.
And the stakes are high: just imagine what would happen if Gerry Adams emerged as the First Minister, and Ian Paisley his Deputy. And who knows, we might even have the results of the census by then!
Meanwhile, when are the Unionists going to consider reciprocating Mayor Maskey’s genuine gesture over the Somme? Yes, Sinn Féin stand to gain politically from it, but then they deserve to gain politically from it.
Mayor Maskey’s wreath-laying ceremony was a brave and correct decision to take and all political parties deserve support when they make brave and correct decisions.
The Unionist councillors have already snubbed the Mayor’s inaugural dinner, and they still refuse to nominate a Deputy Lord Mayor. Last Monday the hand of friendship and reconciliation was reached out to them - even the Belfast Newsletter recognised the importance of it all - and it is now up to the Unionists to reply.
Or are they all determined to continue to sulk and stare, like a spoilt child whose mother has just made him share some of his sweets with his sister.
This article appeared first on the Irelandclick.com web site on July 5, 2002.