Looking back at 2012, and forward to 2013

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Doing some homework before taking part in a political review of the year on Lisburn’s 98FM community radio, I looked back at posts over the last twelve months. While there were lots of other significant political events during the year, below are some of the posts that caught my eye.

Back in January, the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to drop the Department of Employment and Learning. It hasn’t gone away you know! Aged 85, Lord Bannside stepped down from his pulpit in January ending 60 years of full-time ministry.

In February he was admitted to the Ulster Hospital, spent a period in intensive care, and was released on 28 February. Media crews went into overdrive, before scaling back their coverage and presence at the hospital.

David McNarry resigned from the UUP Assembly Group in early February having spoken out about unionist unity talks at the end of January. The Community Relations Council published its first Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report in February.

In March Tom Elliott threw in the towel as UUP leader and in the leadership election, Mike Nesbitt won 81% of the vote against John McCallister (who delivered his baby son in the week of the poll).

In a speech at the Political Studies Association conference dinner in Belfast City Hall in April, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was

open to using new language and consider making new compromises.

The Alliance party conference moved to a bigger hotel. In her speech, Naomi Long commented:

Handled well, the coming decade has the potential to allow us to explore our past together, aiding understanding through education and discussion, helping us learn from our past and look to how we can create and shape stronger and better relationships and enhance community relations. By contrast, if handled poorly, it has the potential to be a highly charged and fractious period, marked by deepening antagonism and division within society, playing to and reinforcing centuries old divisions rather than focusing on future progress.

Alliance party leader David Ford said:

When he’s not threatening to collapse the power-sharing objective over the badge on a cap that some prison officers wear, Peter Robinson is talking about a Shared Future … When he’s not wrapping himself in the Union Flag at the UUP AGM, Mike Nesbitt is talking about a Shared Future.

Only 12 of the 176 motions on clar failed at the Sinn Féin’s ard fheis in Kilarney. Back in May abortion was neither an issue of conscience nor an issue up for debate. That position is slowly shifting.

  • Motion 115 // This Ard Fheis supports the ethical view that a woman should have the legal right to elective abortion whatever the circumstances. We recognise that there are strong views within our party on both sides of the argument but we believe the a woman should ultimately have the right to make the decision where her health, physical or mental, and welfare are concerned. (Keating/Sands Cumann; Waterford)
  • Motion 116 // All Sinn Féin members should be allowed to articulate, campaign and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. (Doherty/Delaney Cumann; Navan, Co. Meath)

On 11 June Martin McGuinness announced that he would resign as MP to concentrate on being deputy First Minister. He hasn’t gone away you know … though Francie Molloy has been selected as the Sinn Féin candidate for the by-election expected some time in early Spring.

July had marches and news that an MLA had fired warning shots out his window at potential intruders. “Non-conformist republican groups” merged under the new – yet familiar – name of “the IRA” – Real IRA, RAAD/Republican Action Against Drugs, Oglaigh na hEireann.

The playing of a Beach Boys tune Sloop John B by the Young Conway Volunteer band – to which the racist words of The Famine Song can be sung – as they marched in circles outside the St Patrick’s Catholic Church on the Twelfth of July had repercussions during the rest of the marching season. The change of rules earlier in the year by the Orange Order Grand Lodge to allow local lodges to speak with residents groups opened the door for dialogue with Carrick Hill residents.

Possible boundary changes that threatened sleepless nights for Alasdair McDonnell, Naomi Long, Gregory Campbell and Ian Paisley Junior slipped away in August as the Lib Dems punished their Tory coalition partners for undermining House of Lords reform.

In the aftermath of airing his views on homosexuality, Lord Maginnis stormed away from the UUP having failed to secure Mike Nesbitt’s resignation.

The DUP in Lisburn proposed that the Orange Order should be granted freedom of the city. The proposal went to a council committee but was abandoned when it became clear there was neither cross-party support not the likelihood of a successful equality impact assessment.

In September, Theresa Villiers replaced Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The DUP used a petition of concern in the Assembly’s Equal Marriage vote (requiring a majority of unionist and a majority of nationalists) meaning that the vote of the unsuccessful motion’s proposer – Green Party Steven Agnew – didn’t count. In October, Alliance looked weak with one MLA voting against the motion, while three others went missing despite the party’s official policy position. Just three unionists supported the motion: Basil McCrea, Danny Kinahan and Michael Copeland.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott spoke at the PUP conference, after a well-received session on Irish language. Party leader Billy Hutchinson said in his speech that

if working class loyalists … don’t decide to politicise and to tackle the political system then they’ll be left behind.

November’s SDLP conference was dominated mentions of opposition by the deputy leader Delores Kelly in her conference speech. Party leader Alasdair McDonnell avoided the bright lights this year and must have been secretly relieved when the teleprompter didn’t work during his speech’s rehearsal and was abandoned.

The DUP’s conference later that month had the usual flags left sitting on delegates’ chairs, the Pubs of Ulster sponsoring a drinks reception (featuring the “devil’s buttermilk”) and Peter Robinson talking in his speech about “abandoning out-dated dogmas” and adjusting the party to become more attractive to disenfranchised Catholic voters.

By December, the war of words inside the Belfast City Council chamber about the frequency of flying the Union Flag erupted into traffic disruption, flag burning and brick throwing on the outside. Weeks of protests have followed, accompanied with intimidation of Alliance elected representatives. Unionists worked together to distribute a flags leaflet across Belfast, and the DUP and UUP issued joint press releases in the wake of the unrest. No longer “sleepwalking towards unionist unity”, the unequally yoked bedfellows are now setting up a unionist forum.

Anniversary fever lasted most of the year. In April marked the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking. The family-friendly Balmoral Review in May (held in Ormeau Park!) extended the hand of friendship to non-Unionist communities, offering to explain to them the Home Rule crises from a Unionist perspective. The Queen visited Northern Ireland in June to celebrate her diamond Jubilee. The centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant was marked with books, lectures, documentaries and a big parade to Stormont, at which the speeches were over before the last of the parade had arrived.

Media wise, the Belfast Telegraph dropped its evening edition (with the First becoming the Final) in April. BBC Northern Ireland’s Hearts and Minds broadcast its last episode on 22 June. August’s audited circulation figures showed the Irish News selling more full price copies than the Belfast Telegraph for the first time. The News Letter finally got a new editor in September with Rankin Armstrong filling the seat Darwin Templeton vacated the previous year.

Next year, Belfast marks the 400th anniversary of receiving its charter. The beginning of the political year will be dominated by how unionism and loyalism face the concern about flags and tackle the long-neglected issues around “those living in our communities who feel socially isolated, abandoned, frustrated, disconnected, and discontented; second class citizens, those with little sense of aspiration for something better” (as the Presbyterian Moderator might put it).

Away from politics [Ed – can anything happen in NI that is not political?] the spotlight will continually swing back to the north west during the year of events around Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013, with brief interruptions for the G8 golfing visit to Fermanagh in June and the World Police & Fire Games.

But less well planned events will determine the reasons for which Northern Ireland will hit international headlines in 2013: political maturity and immaturity; civic tranquillity and unrest security alerts and attacks; overseas investment.

Locally, politicians’ individuality and rage against the machine will rock party boats. One prediction to finish. Not mine – I said he’d be safe until the next election – but a prediction firmly made by commentator and former UUP insider Alex Kane during the review programme: Mike Nesbitt wouldn’t be UUP leader in six month’s time.

What are your memories of 2012? And what are your predictions for 2013?

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  • Chris Donnelly

    Great review piece, Alan.

    On the year ahead, let’s not forget the 100th anniversary of the formation of the UVF and Irish Volunteers, a chance to reflect on James Craig’s role in the formation of an illegal, armed paramilitary organisation, bringing guns into 20th century Irish politics.

    Something tells me a few places have been named after said individual……one to think about in the current climate!

    Unfortunately, there is little evidence that unionist leaders are interested in tackling issues concerning those less well-off in our society unless said individuals and communities are exclusively protestant, an attitude not likely to be of benefit to society as a whole as such an approach only confirms a sectarian mindset and perpetuates the ghetto warfare mentality unionist leaders have cultivated amongst such communities.

    I sincerely hope the City of Culture is a spectacular success as well as the World Police & Fire Games, and hopefully our international footballers (of both green hues) will have a successful year in their respective bids to make it to Brazil in 2014!

  • pauluk

    Thanks, Alan. Good reminder of some of the interesting events of 2012.

    Good catch, Chris, on the Ulster Covenant. Isn’t it wonderful that Northern Ireland now has an arrangement for long-term peace and security within the UK without the threat of major rebellion?

    Happy New Year!

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “an approach only confirms a sectarian mindset and perpetuates the ghetto warfare”

    Chris, I presume the Athboy conspiracy includes no plans for the abandonment of CCMS, just a continuance of the post-1994 struggle against all expressions of unionism.

    SF apologists are on weak ground when it comes to concern for the economic well-being of society. The abandonment of the armalite and ballot-box strategy represented progress but there does appear to be a certain wavering in east Tyrone.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    May: Alliance walks away from key talks over shared future plans – but it seems the ministerial seats were just too comfortable.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Predictions for 2013:
    Details relating to ‘official’ collusion and cover ups will inevitably emerge at an increasing rate.

    The floodgate was opened a little by the Saville report followed by Cameron’s House of Commons apology – again following his apology for acknowledged state collusion in the Pat Finucane murder. Now we also have the previous Ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland murders set aside, with a fresh investigation planned.
    So the trickle of truth from the opening flood gate will become a torrent? Next McGurks pub bombing and the Ballymurphy shootings?

    The truth about Jean McConville’s abduction and murder will inevitably also come flooding out? Must not the facts (evidence behind the conclusions) in State papers relating to one individual allegedly being involved in 50 terrorist murders, also come into the public domain? Then there is also some IRA archived material in a Boston library due (by court order) to be handed over the PSNI.

    We could be in for an interesting year? If the floodgates continue to open there will be any need for a South African type truth commission?

  • David Crookes

    Tremendous piece of work, Alan, many thanks.

    Prediction: more people will leave the UUP and join the DUP.

    The TUV will get tired of being a voice.

    The Alliance Party may begin to yearn for strong attractive leaders who will be able to speak memorably, organize rallies, and fill halls when the next swelling-of-Jordan gets under way.

    Soul by soul and silently, in homes and halls across the land, a new political grouping called QGO * will begin to manifest itself in a world above and beyond the present political parties. The xystarchs of the new grouping will organize no events, but they will respond merrily to invitations from any interested groups of people.

    * Quare Goin’s On

    On the mainland there will be a steady increase in anti-European nastiness of different kinds.

    Another new miracle-diet will be invented and promulgated.

    There will be a major archaeological discovery in the Middle East.

    Something worse than the Burlington Club will come back to haunt certain highly placed individuals.

    A single gunman will murder many people in the USA.

    A well-known TD will resign his seat in a blaze of publicity.

    An event in the world of ‘free energy’ will arouse a flurry of interest.

    In several areas the possibility of money-saving cross-border links will be explored.

  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks for the aide memoirs,Alan.

    Despite the December return to the past (rioting,disturbance,intimidation etc) could one sum up the past year as largely progressive for NI? Possibly yes. The poisoned atmosphere generated by sectarian talking up “the unionist family” by some leaders however brings home how necessary a shared future policy and ACTION is. If only there was the will at top level to grasp the nettle …rather than appeal to sectarian impulses.

    BTW DC, APNI are content with their present Leader/s,sure havent they lead us to an influential position? And as recent events have shown Alliance has many articulate representatives.

  • 6crealist

    No mention of David Black.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Granni Trixie, yes, of course. But a bit more blood-and-guts from DF would help! I wonder if the AP’s baptism-of-fire will turn out to their long-term electoral advantage.

    I could hardly believe that there was a ‘protest’ outside Mrs Long’s office on 25 December. Quare #gegs I tell ye. One hopes that Santa got back to Lapland without being petrol-bombed by heroic anti-cervine patriots.

    Largely a progressive year for NI? Yes, I think so. More and more people are refusing to accept certain ancient barbarities. Some things need to be flushed out, as the boy said when he found a drowned turkey in the toilet.

    Reminds me of a famous piece of Irish music called ‘The Geese in the Bog’! But that’s enough oul bad talk.

  • Granni Trixie

    I would say that cool heads are what’s needed in the face of flag-emotion. That’s a v appropriate turn of phrase,’baptism of fire’ but only time will tell if “recent events” are to Alliances advantage or not. I have turned this question around in my mind many times and end up in circles. Certainly it has clarified that PR in appealing to flag emotion has not changed his spots. At election time it will also not be forgotten by moderate supporters that UUP leader knew nothing about the 40000 leaflets campaign until after the damage was done.

    Problem is (from APNI perspective) that there has been a strong campaign of misinformation from which myths could be created so a lot depends on how successful APNI is in putting the record straight. And ofcourse electoral success is dependant on voter participation. One positive outcome is the likely galvanising of wc Protestants to vote and middle of the road voters who know once and for all that they cannot take a peaceful,shared NI for granted. Change requires each of these blocks to vote.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Granny Trixie. I wonder about the next Westminster election in East Belfast. Will fed-up-with-#flegs voters manage to outnumber supporters of the #flegs brigade? Unforeseen things can happen before elections. In Ballymena the DUP once suffered badly at the hands of the ELO! And John McCain may even have suffered at the hands of Paris Hilton. The important thing is that the thing happens not too long before the election. Otherwise people forget.

    6crealist is right to remind us that many people have already forgotten about Mr David Black. We all need to speak with condign respect about Mr Black’s death. I wonder if there is a wilful element in our forgetting, as if we want to believe that all is well with the peace process.

    Such a belief may lead us to talk detachedly about ‘dissidents’ much as geographers talk about ‘erratic rocks’.

    But a murder is a murder, whether or not certain highly placed persons deem it worthy of an enquiry.

    We should be grateful that no one was murdered during the recent weeks of violence.

  • Framer

    Alex has a bee in his bonnet about the UUP which will chunter along regardless. The same people (ex press officers) were mouthing off about Molyneaux’s leadership in 1982 and he lasted another twelve years.

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    David Black’s funeral is possibly the most significant of many, many omissions. But as I said, “While there were lots of other significant political events during the year, below are some of the posts that caught my eye”‘ and I mostly looked through my own posts which certainly don’t cover everything. I hope other posters will publish their reflections on the year too, and commenters will leave their impressions too.

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes,’forgetting’ David Black is to be resisted. (May he be resting n peace).

    Re EB. Many have discussed reasons for Naomi’s win (including on Slugger) but they tend to overlook Alliance/Naomi’s decision to run a positive campaign. I had to bite my tongue many”s a time on the doorsteps when voters wanted to engage in a slagging exercise about PR.(canvassers were well warned not to do so). This was in the context of extensive media coverage about decisions on Castlereagh Council and the selling of a strip of land at bottom of Robinson garden.

    In view of this I wonder if DUP negative campaign against Naomi will work? and if the likely DUP candidate,the present Lord Mayor of Belfast, will follow such a a strategy,bearing in mind that in the crisis leading up to Christmas he had little to say. Certainly the crisis undermined his capacity to claim that he had a great year as mayor.

  • arsetopple

    December 30th 3012

    Universe 300.000.876.
    Planet E66.7853432443
    Area E29/1

    Hi fellow citizens of universe 300.000.876, planet e66.7853432443, area e29/1.

    I was looking through the Ancestors reunited info on the old mind box & came upon some info on your old tribal earth set up of 1000 years ago. Let me bring you up to date without breaking too many protocols i.e. no lottery/horse racing results from 2013.

    You do seem preoccupied by whether your camp in area E29/1 has 32 or 26 subdivides & I cannot help you there. When faster than light travel was invented we where invited to join The Federation of Galaxies & although we are a culchie type 566 planet entitled to all the benefits the federation provides. All our needs are provided for & there is no poverty, starvation etc with people now living to an average age of 234 years. There is no war or flags & every creature is an equal citizen of the cosmos.

    Those that choose to work do or if you just want to travel or lay by an ocean planet it is up to you.

    There was an incident 200 years ago when a ship arrived from a distant universe & the mother of a hippie type male explained that he had indeed been “A very naughty boy”.

    So my advice to you is live, love be good & enjoy life, be assured you only go around once.

    Got to go now meeting Spock for a pastie supper.

    Live long & prosper.

  • Red Lion

    Prediction-

    Basil McCrea and then John McCallister leave the UUP.

    Hopefully to stand as unionist independents (please God don’t join the Tories!!!).

    They form a loose alliance with other indie union mods such as McClarty and Herman, and begin to develop a challenging, liberal, secular, diverse, non-tribal unionist alternative voice and ideology , and thus expand the middle ground.

  • pauluk

    Looks like there are still plenty of morons in republican ranks determined to undermine peace and progress in NI.

  • Banjaxed

    @Pauluk

    ‘morons in republican ranks’

    And while you’re at it Paul, could we also hear your observations (if any) on the intellectual *Unionist* geniuses who instigated and participated in trying to shut down entirely the economy of Belfast in the busiest weeks of the year for a ‘fleg’?

    One side alone doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘undermining’. I just wish the lot of them would frack away off.

  • pauluk

    In case you hadn’t noticed, Banjaxed, Republicans tried to kill a police officer and his family. Your moral equivalence is unbelievable.