Turning the UUP around. Maybe.

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Lord Maginnis was wrong. I’ve no intention of condemning the man, he’s a personal friend and doesn’t deserve it. But he was just downright wrong.

The substance of his comments was not good. There is a logic to the argument that homosexuality is on the ladder to bestiality, but only if your starting point is that homosexuality is an illegitimate lifestyle choice and/or inherently some sort of public health risk. Morality is a question that can be debated, but the rest is just downright wrong.

Whatever Ken believes, the fact that he decided that it was a good idea to go on Nolan and say it is fairly depressing for the UUP. The story arose out of the fact that a healthy proportion of the DUP parliamentary party are Vice Presidents of a group which claims that gay marriage is the first rung on the ladder to legalised incest. Which is as absurd as it is appalling. For the UUP it is devastating that yet again it has managed to turn a bad news day for the DUP into a terrible news week for itself.

Mike Nesbitt has arguably dealt with the situation as well as he could have. There was never any question of sitting out Ken’s comments; they had to be responded to. Instigating disciplinary proceedings, which is apparently to be done, killed the Alliance Party’s hyperbole before it started (although that was very much a damage limitation exercise) but would also appear to be the crossing of a Rubicon. UUP leaders since the dawn of time have shied away from situations like these. The amount of ill-disciplined comments under the carpet doesn’t bear quantifying. In this instance though, Nesbitt immediately stated 1) that the comments were a solo-run and that 2) they wouldn’t be tolerated.

This course of action is not without it’s problems. Ken is a very popular man, and with good reason. There will be those loathe to see him disciplined for what they will see as a minor matter. There will be a sense amongst a great many that this kind of thing could and should be ignored, if for no other reason than if it wasn’t for Ken Maginnis , the chances are that everyone, gay, straight and neither, would still be shooting at each other. There is also the fact that he isn’t a man to be told what to do quietly, and due process of discipline will be slow, awkward and public.

The road to making the UUP an election winning machine is going to be a long and slow one. These kinds of situation traditionally befall the UUP around four weeks ahead of an election, it is at least fortunate that today Northern Ireland is several years away from one. If Nesbitt is to turn the party around, he really has to grasp the bull by the horns. It is a shame that the bull turned out to be Ken Maginnis , but really, he had no choice but to take the challenge once it appeared. The fact that Adrian Watson presented himself up on the same day (for reasons that aren’t altogether clear quite frankly, although I haven’t heard what he actually said) is interesting for similar reasons.

The wisdom of calling an Executive Committee meeting is a little beyond me. If it is there to reaffirm the Party’s position on gay marriage as a matter of conscience, that will be a short meeting. Otherwise I can only see a lot of shouting. However on the matter of how Nesbitt handled the first four hours of this ludicrous situation, he has passed the test that his predecessors never quite managed to. The challenge now is to turn that into something useful.

  • South Belfast Hack

    If the Party’s position on gay marriage is that it is a matter of conscience then what has Ken done wrong?

  • Mister Joe

    The road to making the UUP an election winning machine is going to be a long and slow one.

    Many believe, with a certain amount of justification, that the road is a dead end. Mainly because of the DUP’s slow but continuing move towards the centre.

  • OneNI

    Thanks Michael from your garret in London you have lighting up a grey Belfast day with the idea that the UUP is being turned round!

    What has Ken said that is in breach of Party policy. Likewise with Adrian Watson?
    Mike Nesbitt did not pass any test he flunked with a major over- reaction. He then added to his problems by saying – as you point out – they were a solo run and not party policy BUT that they wont be tolerated which is it?

    Will he now discipline Ken? and Adrian?

  • Michael Shilliday

    I love the irony that a plastic Tory doesn’t think I should have an opinion because I’m in London.

    The rest of that comment didn’t make any logical sense either.

  • Nordie Northsider

    ‘I’ve no intention of condemning the man, he’s a personal friend and doesn’t deserve it.’

    Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up.

  • unionistvoter

    Surely the issue in relation to Ken is not what he said (offensive as it was) but rather, if the Sunday papers are to believed, (I know stretching things) he was already on a yellow card with strict instructions on going through the press office.

    I understand Mr Watson likewise believes he is beyond bidding.

  • South Belfast Hack

    Mine does though, if party policy is freedom of conscience, for what is Ken going to be disciplined?

    Is it freedom of conscience providing you don’t tell anyone?

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I think its a fair assessment by Mr Shilliday.
    And clearly what Ken “did wrong” was to lower the tone of the discourse. The “bestiality” comment does little credit to Ken, who as Mr Shilliday has earned the right to be rspected by those beyond his immediate fan base.It would be a pity if his reputation is defined by yesterday……but he really DOEs know better.

  • andnowwhat

    Houl on there!!!

    You say;”

    There is a logic to the argument that homosexuality is on the ladder to bestiality, but only if your starting point is that homosexuality is an illegitimate lifestyle choice and/or inherently some sort of public health risk.”

    And then you say;

    “The story arose out of the fact that a healthy proportion of the DUP parliamentary party are Vice Presidents of a group which claims that gay marriage is the first rung on the ladder to legalised incest.”

    Firstly, neither have any place in post Victorian society, never mind the 21st century. Secondly, what sort of strange game of perversion trumps goes on in these quarters? Is having sex with a pig worse than having sex with your sister?

    As for Nesbitt, the only thing he mentions more often than his religion (including policies, of which he has made none of any substance) is Rory Mc Ilroy. Just what is Mike’s attitude to homosexuality and as unionist, is it one that would be acceptable in the normal parlance of GB?

    I have sod all bother putting Ken’s remarks down to pure ignorance but I know how I catargarise Nesbitt’s inabilty to just take on an issue, be it a policy or personality, without flaming. The UUP need to realise that a cold winter and a bad flu could reduce those blue rinse stained X’s to the extent that the party will be history, lest he can come up with something 20th, never mind 21st, century

  • Bangordub

    Lads,
    The point here is not what it says about Ken. It’s what it says about the UUP and Mike Nesbitts leadership. This is a direct throwback to what was always their problem, ie: Solo runs and Neanderthal opinions. The question to my mind is, whats changed?

  • South Belfast Hack

    IMHO Mike has put legs on this story by calling an Extraordinary General Meeting. What does that says about his leadership?

  • Mick Fealty

    Yeah Dub, and that’s a classic case of playing the man rather than the ball getting on for racialist stereotyping.

    What’s unacknowledged here is the fact:

    One, that Catholics, north and south, were in my day (to put one hand gingerly into the air) way more socially conservative than Protestant friends (although I knew of Catholic mates who would buy johnnies in the toilets of the Maxol filling station in Holywood and sell them in Dublin on the weekend of the All Ireland final for a smart profit)…

    Two, Catholics are now liberalising their views on social matters at a rate that is much faster than those formerly liberal Protestant friends… not least because of the collapse of the moral authority of the church… The anti Sodomy campaigns of the early eighties were mostly associated with the Free Ps but they had some Catholic hangers on…

    Whilst you are indulging in anti Unionist propaganda, it is as well to remember how tough it was to grant divorce in the Republic and that it was the Protestant nature of the northern state that allowed both divorce and contraception generations before Dublin.

    That said, incidents like these help rob the UUP of the liberal urban base it once relied up to pull in South Belfast with such big majorities… It is for this and a number of other reasons that Brian Wilson notes on the Battleground thread, that is shredding its base in the liberal east…

  • andnowwhat

    Ah, Adrian Watson said pigs will fly before there’ll be a shinner mayor in Antrim. In fact, he won’t even tolerate one as a deputy mayor, despite them having the largest nationalist vote in the area.

    When challenged in the Assembly by Mitchel Mc Laughlin regarding Watson’s remarks, Nesbitt did not answer.

    http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/21951

  • Bangordub

    Mick,
    “Yeah Dub, and that’s a classic case of playing the man rather than the ball getting on for racialist stereotyping.”
    I strongly disagree that I was man playing in my comment. If you meant Ken, I made it clear that I was not referring to his comments. If you meant Mike, He’s a party leader and I made reference to his leadership skills, nothing personal about the man. I have no problem or disagreement with your points, 1 and 2. You lived through that, I didn’t and it rings true as my Dad did live through it and it tallys with what he thought.
    Your last point I find very insulting. I am not an “Anti unionist propagandist” Please check my previous comments as evidence.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ok, it was the neanderthal remark I reacted to… I read it as a generalising comment about unionists in general… and that was my mistake…

    For which I apologise…

    But I sense a degree of hypocrisy in the air (and an all too convenient forgetting about where we Catholics have come from)…

    Not least about a man of a generation that see these matters in all manner of ways that’s difficult…

  • Bangordub

    Thank You.
    I agree totally that many Catholics are guilty of the same or more extreme views. Equally wrong in my view. However I was trying to seperate the man, and his views which would have been compatible with his contemporaries, from the way it was handled by his Party Leader. I can assure you that I do not for a second consider all Unionists “Neanderthals”. Apologies if that came across.

  • http://stephensliberaljournal.blogspot.com Stephen Glenn

    Maginnis is quite entitled to the view that he doesn’t want his church to marry couples of the same-sex. Indeed the consultation in England and Wales is about civil marriage and not marriage in a religious service.

    Where he overstepped the remark was the remark about homosexuality being a rung on a ladder. A comment he came back unto Nolan this morning apparently to clarify only to make worse.

    He also on the day that the Equalities Commission point out that one in four people don’t want a LGB person (never mind a couple) or 40% a trangender person living next door to stir a pot and light a torch paper to that prejudice even further. Ironically the same survey showed less than 10% would not have issue or the traditional division in our society.

    He also as a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry (though not the Orange) have taken part in more parades than there have been Pride Marches in the history of Northern Ireland. Yet denies that right to demonstrate the presence of that somewhat underground until recent years group to show others they are not alone to all the negativity that is aimed at them in their street, workplace or even family.

  • pauluk

    …The anti Sodomy campaigns of the early eighties were mostly associated with the Free Ps…

    I know it’s of little consequence, but for the record, Peter Robinson, who lead the DUP’s high-profile opposition to sodomy in the early 80′s, is not a Free P.

    Of course, Free P’s, and a host of other churchgoers from Baptist, Brethren, Independent Methodists, Pentecostals, and most Presbyterians, C of I, and even Methodists, agreed with him.

    I presume they still do.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I noted that yesterday as well Stephen, Ken described gays as “aggressive” and when asked by Nolan to explain what he meant by this he referred to the gay pride parades.

    I thought it was interesting to hear a senior unionist describing parades as an act of aggression.

  • Carsons Cat

    Interesting isn’t it that the inner workings of the UUP have clearly been briefing the media that whilst Ken will be disciplined he will be given what they’re all quoting as a “soft landing”.

    Apparently this is because he’s a long standing member blah blah blah.

    Mind you, that didn’t seem to apply to a member of even longer standing: David McNarry.

    The lesson appears to be that if you talk to the DUP you’ll be chucked rather unceremoniously out on your backside. However, if you, on two separate occasions, go on the radio and equate gay people to those who engage in bestiality then you’ll get a “soft landing”.

    Maybe that’s what the Party Executive is meeting to decide – exactly what kind of carriage clock Ken gets…….

  • cynic2

    Carsons Cat

    And that illustrates the precise problem. Its not just an issue of internal party management. Its that they are ever more out of touch with majority opinion, old, tired and unelectable any more.

    Yes they can turn around the UUP ….but when you do that again and again you just move in circles ….around the plughole of electoral defeat

  • Harryaswell

    For many years now the UUP has struggled on with well intentioned Leaders who mainly were far far too weak on discipline. Mike is correct in trying to enforce a sense of responsibility in his members and a sense of discipline also. Apparantly, his e-mail was only sent a few minutes before it was leaked!! – Says a lot for the arrogance of the old guard UUP! Mike is quite right. NO other party allows their members to speak to the media without first clearing what they will say with their Party authority. I, of course, can say what I like with impunity because whilst supporting the UUP, I do not belong as a member, yet!

  • dwatch

    “Maginnis is quite entitled to the view that he doesn’t want his church to marry couples of the same-sex.”

    When does Maginnis believe his church or any church will ever be enforced by law to marry couples of the same sex in Northern Ireland ?.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Just examining the history of homophobia in Northern Ireland politics, it is easy to understand Michael Shilliday’s frustration with Lord Maginnis. Over the years, it is DUP politicians that have overwhelmingly led the way on homophobia. The following is my chronology of unionist homophobia in politics. I dont claim to be aware of all similar events

    Unionst Homophobic roll of honour

    1977 – Revd. Ian Paisley launches “Save Ireland from Sodomy” campaign to avert legislation brought in to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland.

    2005 – Ian Paisley Jnr critises UUP leader, David Trimble, for allowing a unionist adviser, Stephen King, to work for him after marrying his gay partner.

    2006 – In a debate in the Assembly motion to condemn the Government for introducing equality legislation for gays, DUP spokesman Jeffrey Donaldson claimed that the regulations would make schools which teach traditional Christian views “liable to a harassment claim from gay pupils if they taught homosexuality was sinful”.

    2007 – Lord Morrow of the DUP leads campaign against regulations outlawing businesses from discriminating against homosexuals.

    2007 – Ian Paisley Junior calls gays “repulsive”

    2008 – Iris Robinson condemns homosexuality as an abomination and compares it similarly to child abuse. She also said homosexuals should have psychiatric counselling.

    2008 – Peter Robinson defends his wife’s remarks, saying that she was quoting the bible. He said that he was against discrimination but at the same time would not attend a pro gay event.

    2009 – The Orange Order withdraw from a Church Service to celebrate diversity after it was announced that a pro-gay organisation ‘Changing Attitudes’ would be attending the event.

    2010 – During Leadership election, Tom Elliot indicates that he would not attend a Gay Pride Event.

    2011 – Nelson McCausland, social development minister, speaking at a West Belfast Festival, calls homosexuality immoral

    2011 – DUP fail to provide a speaker at the Gay Pride event.

    2011 – TUV leader Jim Allister criticises the DUP for pushing ahead with a charter for more gay rights.

    2012 – Lord Maginnis claims Gay marriage is deviant and suggests that homosexuality is one rung on the ladder towards bestiality.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Seymour, quick correction, Tom said he wouldn’t take part in the Gay Pride Parade, in the context of “headline grabbing stunts” not really in the same league as the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign.

    All of your examples are mainly bluster, however you missed the worst case of homophobia when young Paul Berry was hounded out of the DUP due to a gay related story.

    As for Ken, some people mellow, some peoples personality traits become more pronounced with age, it is over a decade since he was in front line politics, some people just can’t let go.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    DR

    I think the term “bluster” is inaccurate. The incidents are highly indicative of the mindsets of people involved.

    I forgot about Paul Berry, so thank you for that. There seems to be a slight shift in the DUP’s position (see the Allister incident, for example) and I wonder if the disciplinary proceedings would happen today.

    It is not difficult to understand the influences which shaped Maginnis’s viewpoint.

    But Maginnis is also a seasoned politician. He would have noted the adverse publicity attracted by others. He would have been well aware of the controversy he was creating and the damage and embarassment it might cause the UUP. The question I have to ask is why would he want to stick a knife into his party’s well being just for the sake of a bit of conviction politics on a radio show?

  • Progressive Unionist

    I’ve always really liked Ken Maginnis and, whether you like him or not, he deserves huge respect for his role in the peace process, particularly back when it was still fragile and young on its legs.

    That said, his comments on homosexuality being linked to bestiality were absolutely appalling and would have deeply offended many people, including many UUP supporters.
    Many political parties treat issues, such as gay marriage, as matters of conscience – but that certainly doesn’t mean that members have a licence to just go and say whatever they like, no matter how offensive.

    Mike Nesbitt’s rapid reaction (“I have no desire to be part of any organisation that equates homosexuality to bestiality”) was spot on and unequivocal. To anyone who thinks Mike ‘over-reacted’ – imagine how David Cameron would have reacted if it was a Tory grandee saying these words?

    It could actually turn into an opportunity for Mike to define the UUP clearly in terms of traditional British values of inclusive and tolerance and mutual respect – values most UUP supporters believe in, not just ‘liberals’.

  • Progressive Unionist

    PS – very good blog post, but homosexuality is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ any more than gender or race is. it’s a phrase which many LGB people can find belittling.

  • andnowwhat

    Progressive Unionist

    Too right. As someone from a working class urban area in the 70′s, there was fek all attractive in making a “choice to be gay”. Some of the gay guys I knew then and have gotten to know since went against their nature and married (all Catholic) or did the classic thing of going to GB to live for a number of years.

    It wasn’t cool, hip or funky to be gay or lesbian (I didn’t know any back then) in those days, Derision and snide remarks were more par for the course. As a possessor of curly hair, none too masculine looks, fond of dancing having trained for a few years and always having had an individual sense of style (some hit, most miss), I’ve had a little of the attitude thrown at me a few times. Rather than deny being gay (which I’m not) I let the perception go because I didn’t think it was something that needed refuting.

    I’ve been to Asia (Hong Kong, Cebu and Thailand) many times for training in martial arts there is simply nothing like the attitude to LBGT people like we have here and their’s is not even a modern attitude but one that’s been in their cultures since goodness knows when.

    Finally, the fastest growing “faith” today is secularism and atheism and the days of such pronouncements are hopefully numbered with such crap being limited to NI’s own Tea Party types

  • Mister Joe

    Although attitudes are much more accepting now, I can’t imagine people “choosing” to be gay even as close as 20 years ago. It was, and still can be, difficult to express your sexuality in public.

  • andnowwhat

    Mister Joe

    ” It was, and still can be, difficult to express your sexuality in public.”

    To true, as the tag on my left ankle attests :-)

  • GoldenFleece

    Despite Nesbitt calling out a blanket ban on uup members talking to the media without permission Ken Maginnis talks to the papers with more anti-homosexual rheteric.

    Does this make Nesbitt ineffectual? So much for turning the UUP around.

  • PeterBrown

    “I thought it was interesting to hear a senior unionist describing parades as an act of aggression.”

    I suspect Ken in the same insensitive tone as his other remarks is talking about the specific nature of some reported elements of the Pride Parade which have necessitated Parades Commission intervention not parades generally. Admirable attempt to take a quote completely out of context though….

  • Comrade Stalin

    I suspect Ken in the same insensitive tone as his other remarks is talking about the specific nature of some reported elements of the Pride Parade which have necessitated Parades Commission intervention not parades generally. Admirable attempt to take a quote completely out of context though….

    When you say “suspect” you really meant “speculate”, and it’s a shame you didn’t check first. Ken said nothing about what was actually in the parades, nor did he refer to anything to do with the Parades Commission. When asked to explain what he thought was aggressive about gays he referred to the fact that they held parades.

    Here is the piece of the conversation at about 1m45 :

    ——–

    Ken : “This is something that is aggressive, this is something that is demanding, this is something .. ”

    Nolan (interrupting) “What’s aggressive about it ?”

    Ken : “Well, the very fact that people take to the streets campaigning in favour, of .. have gay rights parades and so on .. I just think .. can I tell you that I ”

    Nolan : “You don’t believe in the right to protest now ? ”

    Ken : No no no, that’s not what I’m saying at all, I was a student at college. maybe I’m old fashioned, but I was a student at college before I ever knew that there was such a thing as homosexuality, it is not something that was part of the scene 50, 60 years ago”

    ——–

  • Comrade Stalin

    Progressive Unionist :

    Mike Nesbitt’s rapid reaction (“I have no desire to be part of any organisation that equates homosexuality to bestiality”) was spot on and unequivocal.

    No. “Unequivocal” would be to say that Ken was wrong and that he would be disciplined. Nesbitt skirted around that.

    Instead, Nesbitt dodges taking a decision, yet again, a bit like he did when he suggested holding a referendum on whether or not there should be an opposition. At some point he is going to have to grow a backbone and start taking a position on things.

  • dwatch

    Nesbitt & the UUP disciplinary committee has moved much quicker here than they did when dealing with McNarry.

    Maginnis censured over sex remarks
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/maginnis-censured-over-sex-remarks-16173485.html

  • Lionel Hutz

    Comrade,

    This is not an issue for party discipline. This was an old homophobic man making disgraceful comments that are fairly typical of his generation unfortunately. Distance yourself and move on.

    The Alliance are just trying to make a play on it. Fair enough,but it’s nonsense.

    Like this comment in relation to gay blood:

    “Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy said the minister “needed to realise that it is unacceptable to discriminate like this”.

    “It is shocking that a minister in our executive is sending out this message. Do we really want Northern Ireland to be portrayed like this?

    “This is about equality, by banning gay men from donating blood, Edwin Poots is denying them their human rights. I would ask him to reconsider his decision on this issue.””

    Giving blood is a human right now. Lol

  • Comrade Stalin

    The issue is parties with bigoted and outdated views.

    I am not sure what “making a play on it” means. If you mean that the party is using the opportunity to emphasize its values of liberalism and tolerance in contrast with the illiberal and intolerant values of the UUP and DUP, I don’t see the issue. It’s a normal thing for political parties to do.

    It would be terribly mischevious, of course, for someone to bring up the issue of how Seamus Close behaved a few short years ago, but the UUP probably don’t have that amount of clue, and Seamus is out of politics anyhow.

    Kieran McCarthy isn’t the sharpest tool in the box.

  • hugodecat

    PeterBrown

    “I suspect Ken in the same insensitive tone as his other remarks is talking about the specific nature of some reported elements of the Pride Parade which have necessitated Parades Commission intervention not parades generally. Admirable attempt to take a quote completely out of context though….”

    Exactly when has the behaviour of anyone on the Pride parade necessitated parades commission intervention. the only intervention by the Parades Commission that i am aware of is to act as an intermediary between the parades organisers and those who object to the existence of the parade. they have imposed no restrictions or controls on the parade.
    In recent years its the parades organisers who have been offering dialogue with those who would rather they don’t exist . despite constant criticism of the tens of thousands who attend from some quarters based on little evidence there has been no action, and the parades commission have found no cause for censure.
    men dressed in ladies clothing, or carnival costumes are not obscene, offensive nor illegal. it would be interesting to see how much controversy there was if every parade that went through the city was subjected to Victorian values and puritanical comment.

  • George

    Forget the issues within the UUP, perhaps the question should be whether this man be prosecuted for inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation for his comments.

    Under the relevant legislation, hatred on the grounds of sexual means “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to sexual orientation (whether towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both)”.

  • PeterBrown

    hugodecat

    Quote from 2008 PC Detrmination on Belfast Pride which appears to have been a direct response to the now infamous placard carrried the year before – care to retract?

    4. The Commission is aware from its meetings with the parade organiser and the Stop the Parade Coalition that both sides have re-affirmed their intention to abide by an agreement reached in 2005. The Commission is heartened by this renewed commitment, particularly in the light of the events of 2007 when a particular placard caused considerable offence, and reinforces the need for all to show the tolerance and respect necessary in a pluralist society.

    Comrade Stalin

    Clearly Ken is stating that campaigning is agressive rather than the parade per se

  • Comrade Stalin

    Peter,

    care to retract?

    Don’t you think you should think about a wee retraction of your 12:02 yesterday before you start demanding the same of other people ?

    Clearly Ken is stating that campaigning is agressive rather than the parade per se

    No, not “clearly”. It remains the case that he mentioned the fact that parading took place (among other things) when he was asked in what way the gays were “aggressive”.

    The Orange Order also do campaigning and parading, but I doubt that their supporters, including people like Ken, would be happy to use the word “aggressive” in that context. It implies something negative.

  • hugodecat

    Peter Brown

    Stop the parades coalition approach the parades commission each year and list a number of grievances, the parades commission take no action,

    Each year as a matter of course the Belfast Pride lot visit the parades commission prior to their determination , whilst in front of the panel they will occasionally be asked about the previous years “complaint du jour” along with the usual pleasantries about the growing size of the parade and the plans for the current year.

    I reiterate there has been no interventions with The Belfast Pride parade other than requests from Belfast Pride for introductions and offer of talks with those protesting. there have been no parade restrictions, no demands for change, there have been acknowledgements of the efforts of the parade organisers to make the parade increasingly inclusive and acknowledgement that every agreement they have made with protest groups, (in various forms) has been broken by the protest groups.