In the aftermath of last months European election, it was noted by some political observers- here and elsewhere- that Jim Allisters biggest problem in developing a party which can provide a genuine challenge to the DUP at an Assembly/ Westminster election was the absence of competent candidates for the party.
News stories carried in the last couple of days have confirmed the accuracy of the assertion.
Firstly, there is the case of TUV Ballymena councillor, Robin Stirling, who was ejected from a fundraising dinner for the Milk Cup at the China Garden Restaurant in the town after heckling the legendary Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper, Harry Gregg, during a question and answer session hosted by Jackie Fullerton. Interviewed in the Irish News today (subs reqd.), Gregg claims the TUV councillor told him that rugby players and football players are nothing but hooligans, before adding the helpful advice that Stirling is the type of man that should stay away from the gargle.
Then, there is the case of TUV Antrim councillor, Mel Lucas, who has criticised those who removed loyalist flags erected outside a catholic church in the town (story in the Antrim Guardian not yet online). The flags had been erected by loyalists as part of a plan to ‘halt the march of nationalism’ in the predominantly unionist town. Flags were also erected outside Tesco (the scene of a noble loyalist victory over children participating in a sponsored bag-pack for the local GAA club) and outside the site of the proposed Antrim GAA County Centre of Excellence.
Speaking about the matter in this weeks Antrim Guardian, Lucas stated:
[The flags] never should have been taken down…..I find it incredible that critics of the flags are suggesting that people proud of their flag are marking out territory. Thats patently nonsense because its all British- even the bits outside the chapel….Criticise the people who put up these flags? I dont think so. I salute them.
Of course, the DUP thrived on sectarian-motivated comments like those of Lucas for generations, so it is unlikely that the Antrim man will lose his electoral base following the remarks.
But Allister is a considerably more intelligent and articulate representative, who knows that the type of electoral advances he requires in the next major electoral contest in the north will require him retaining support from a section of the unionist community who may baulk at such crude manifestations of sectarianism. For example, Allisters attempt to play hardball with loyalist paramilitaries over decommissioning may cut little ice with nationalists, but it does little harm in the eyes of those unionists who buy into the narrative of the ‘law and order champion’ he has attempted to cultivate.
It appears he may have to revisit that cloning idea.