Comment: Nationalist politics is lacking ‘a Jim Allister’

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice
Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice

Nationalist politics has no Jim Allister.

No-one holding Sinn Fein to account. Nobody keeping the party on its toes. No presence on the green benches willing to shake up the system.

The election results show that the SDLP provides no real opposition at all. They secured the losers’ label a long time ago and it’s impossible to see them ever shaking it off.

They polled a poor 13.6 per cent in last week’s council elections, their worst result in over 40 years, bringing them right back to the 13.4 per cent they received in the first local government elections they contested in 1973.

Sinn Fein’s appeal in the South is clear. It has never been in government; it is seen as a radical, anti-establishment party which voters believe will be a breath of fresh air in the corridors of power.

But in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is the establishment.

Yet unlike its DUP partner in government, which has the TUV and UUP monitoring its every move, Sinn Fein seems largely able to do as it pleases without any repercussions.

Last week Deirdre Hargey topped the poll for Sinn Fein in south Belfast’s Botanic ward.

Speaking to RTE shortly after Robert McCartney’s murder in 2005, Hargey said: “Republicans have nothing to do with that. This is part of the onslaught by the media, governments and political parties to criminalise Sinn Fein.”

We all now know how inaccurate her account was regarding republican involvement in the brutal killing.

Hargey failed to mention to RTE that she was in Magennis’s bar on the fatal night, although that later became public knowledge. In a statement to her solicitor, she said she “saw nothing”.

Yet there wasn’t even a whisper during the election campaign about the suitability of Deirdre Hargey to be an elected representative in the ward where Robert McCartney was murdered.

Compare the silence on this to the furore there’s been about sectarian remarks the TUV’s Jolene Bunting made on Facebook when she was 18 years old.

It is right that Bunting is quizzed on the matter but surely there is a far greater case for holding Hargey to account?

The election of People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll in west Belfast shows there is discontent with the status quo in nationalist areas and where a credible, exciting alternative exists, voters will give it a chance.

The success of independent republican candidates, many on their first serious political outing, also proved some dissatisfaction exists at grassroots level.

But the SDLP has been unable to capitalise on this.

Rightly or wrongly, they’re seen as yesterday’s men and women. Tim Attwood is the SDLP Belfast City Council group leader.

He’s capable and hardworking yet he struggled to get re-elected in the seven-seat Black Mountain ward.

The SDLP lacks both imagination and organisation. Most nationalists don’t know what it stands for nowadays.

Alasdair McDonnell has a minimal media presence and when he does appear he comes across as grumpy rather than passionate.

The party’s machine is in poor nick.

In my neighbourhood, the SDLP council candidate was out canvassing on her own which looked pathetic compared to the huge contingents of Team Sinn Fein.

There is talent in SDLP ranks but we don’t see it enough.

Councillor Claire Hanna in Balmoral is one of the most articulate young politicians around and more use should be made of her.

Yet whatever the SDLP does now, it could well be too little, too late.

For the first time, Sinn Fein overtook the party in Derry and Mark Durkan’s Foyle seat looks in serious danger in next year’s Westminster election.

While political competition is thriving within unionism, in nationalism it remains thin on the ground.