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As previously mentioned on Slugger, last night was the Belfast Salon’s attempt to make sense of Northern politics – and, indeed, the wider question of what politics mean.

Speakers were Owen Polley, Malachi O’Doherty, Liam O’Dowd and myself. As a panellist I’m not in much of a position to judge how things went but the audience certainly raised some interesting points.

Audience members questioned the existence of civil society, the role of the press in the peace process, made tentative comparisons between here and other divided places such as Cyprus and Belgium.

O’Dowd and O’Doherty both argued that my dismissal of the possibility of a re-ignited conflict was incorrect. I was left wondering if it was a generational issue – the conflict during my youth in the 1980s and 1990s was bad enough, but the really bad days were before my time. I don’t disagree that the potential for conflict is there, I just think that a sustained conflict of a guerilla nature cannot exist without some measure of popular support – of which I see no evidence.

O’Doherty puts a lot of stock in the civic forum, though with various caveats. Polley and myself were more dubious. O’Dowd said the middle class withdrawl from politics was a significant problem.

The sole elected politician to turn up was the PUP’s Dawn Purvis and she took issue with what she saw as the bleakness of my outlook. My only possible response to that is that I may think very little of the assembly but I’m not bleak about the prospects for politics. I believe Purvis is acting in good faith as a politician and if more representatives were like her we’d be in better shape. The PUP’s anti-sectarianism is all the more interesting – and meaningful – as it comes from the loyalist working class, not from the golf club. She will be disappointed to hear that I intend to continue not voting: it’s not a point of principle, it’s literally the case that no party is anything like remotely close to representing my views. If one did I would happily vote. for it. Besides, I don’t live here anymore.

Anyway, thanks to all who came and participated and to Belfast Exposed for hosting the debate.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    It was interesting but I thought a council of despair.
    Civil Society is something dreamed up in the School of Politics at QUB and cons a few “wimmin” and community groups that anybody actually cares what they think.
    At least it keeps them off the streets….literally.
    While there were no big names there, there were actually several “faces”

  • Civil Society is something dreamed up in the School of Politics at QUB


    Not sure what you mean by this, from here it looks like one of the problems with the north is beyond the trade unions there seems very little that could be termed as civil society, certainly in a political context.

    The problem with this is when the MSM and politicians all agree on the direction they believe a society should take, without a robust civil society the politicos do not have to do a dam thing to get their own way.

    An example of the benefit of having an active civil society was demonstrated in the rest of the UK when the two mainstream parties trooped in behind GW Bush on Iraq.

    A stop the war coalition was quickly established and whilst it was unable to stop the UK participating in the war, the Tory and Labour leadership were unable to claim they had massive public support etc.

  • FJH,

    If you think civil society was something dreamed up in the QUB School of Politics, that says more about you than it does about the problematic way in which the term is deployed in Northern Ireland public discussion.

  • If Purvis comes from the loyalist working class how come the PUP lost out in North Belfast? Is the ‘loyalist’ working class now confined to a few thousand votes in East Belfast out of sympathy with David Irvine.

  • An Phoblacht Abu

    Speaking from a republican viewpoint ive much more respect for the PUP than any of the other unionist/loyalist parties. By ‘loyalist working class’ id imagine he means the more left leaning members of the loyalist community who wont buy into the bible bigotry of the DUP or the Big House Huns of the UUP as my dad used to refer to them both as.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Well Garibaldy….I was teasing a little.
    Not everything can be laid at the door of Queens University.

    But basically “civic society” is a term embraced by the usual suspects who having failed to get elected to anything anywhere…..embrace the notion of community groups and become community leaders thru entryism.

    Basic textbook non socialist crap that the old Workers Party was fond of. But somehow validated by Mo Mowlam and Womens Coalition and people who really should know better. Some QUB people have a lot to answer for.
    Anyway Civil Society” is not to be taken seriously.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Theres certainly a lot of respect for the over-rated Ervine. And Purvis is certainly in his image.
    David Ervine was much more successful at shedding the “thug” image than his more abrasive North Belfast colleague, Billy Hutchinson.

  • Jason Walsh

    I didn’t say Dawn Purvis represented the entirety of working class loyalism, I said her party came from it. The PUP may be small but it’s not an irrelevance. (Some) Republicans have dismissed loyalists as fascists for too long. It’s not useful and certainly not helpful. For sure, the connections between the UDA and NF etc are worth knowing about but there is more to loyalism than that. And I say that as someone who’s about as far from loyalism as you can get.

    I admit I don’t fully understand the contradictions of the PUP and UVF but I still say Dawn Purvis is acting in good faith.

    Anyway, there’s a full report on the event on the front page of forth [subs required]. If it gets republished on a free site I’ll link to it here.

  • Stephen Blacker

    I am not surprised that Dawn Purvis was the only MLA to attend, contrary to what some people say the PUP are a party of the people. People who take the time to HEAR the message from this well named group will understand that the stereotypical thoughts of them is blinkered.

    It is not a surprise to me that the peace process we are living through today was first muted by PUP “types” as far back as the Late 1970’s. The Late David Ervine was a man who would have made you question yourself and the beliefs you hold. Not an easy thing to do.

    I would agree with Jason Walsh that Dawn is acting in good faith, Dawn might not have all the answers but she has more answers to the problems our society has than any of the rest of our MLA’s. If Carlsberg made politicians Dawn Purvis would be the result!

  • Old saying: ‘Don’t say worker when you mean Union Official’. So Purvis represents a minority of working class loyalism? So how would that minority be defined?

  • Stephen Blacker


    I know your last post was not directed to me but I think that group could be defined as, starting to think for themselves instead of letting the lorded gentry lead them by the nose. Dawn Purvis does have her roots in loyalist working class area’s but she represents everyone from all backgrounds.

  • st etienne

    I’m surprised to read mainstream unionists being described as lorded gentry.

    Has there been a renaissance in the ancient Ulster chieftain structure I’m not aware of?

  • Stephen Blacker

    st etienne,

    The reason why i described mainstream unionists as “lorded gentry” is because it leaves a picture of people who are a few rungs up the ladder to the ordinary working person. Working class people would not question the word of the self styled ruling class.