Did Ritchie’s performance register on the Cecilian scale?

 Garibaldy’s written an excellent piece on UTV’s local Leader’s Debate this week. He’s not wrong with his initial summary that SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, put in a performance registering on the Cecilian scale- not for appearing hopelessly dithering and past her sell by date, but rather for appearing to confirm widely held suspicions that she simply isn’t up to the leadership game. And to think the SDLP initially threatened to boycott the debate unless Gerry Adams -and not Martin McGuinness- was the face put forward by Sinn Fein.  Here’s Garibaldy’s take:

I imagine there was quite a lot of forehead slapping going on among SDLP members wondering why they hadn’t voted for Mc Donnell. If there wasn’t, there certainly should have been.

Whilst Mick has suggested that Adams’ victory on the nationalist side was based on his folksy delivery as opposed to any substantive points, that would appear to be a somewhat harsh assessment. Adams, who Mick rightly notes has put in some poor shifts in southern debates, appeared much better briefed this time, landing numerous blows to the hapless Ritchie. These included his delivery of the three main headline quotes from the debate: the lazy abstentionists, the OO as ‘midwife’ for the unity unionist candidate and the flanker regarding Thomas Burns’ solo flight over support for British military actions. Where the SDLP leader should have been in a position to turn the screw on Adams- over the Liam Adams case and his own denials of IRA membership- she failed to intervene decisively.

On the unionist tussle, Garibaldy goes with the consensual view that the contest was a more closely fought affair, with Empey and Robinson landing punches on one another. 

His summary is fairly hard hitting:

Overall, then, I have to say I found it a bit rubbish. Adams clearly did best, then probably Empey and Robinson. Ritchie was the clear loser. In 2001, a disastrous performance in a debate at the old Crumlin Road Courthouse made the outgoing 77-year old North Belfast Ulster Unionist MP Cecil Walker look old, tired, and shambolic. He dropped from first place to fourth in the election. While Ritchie’s performance was nothing as bad, I would think hers is the next most distastrous television performance I’ve seen by a politician in NI.

Time will tell which parties will have got their campaign strategies right, but it’s hard not to concede that Sinn Fein’s clear focus on the leadership theme (in posters, billboards, canvass cards and adverts no less) was conceived of not long after Margaret Ritchie was confirmed as the new SDLP leader.

  • Cynic2

    Margaret who?

  • Henry94

    While it wasn’t the best performance it is a bit of a stretch to compare it to the Walker disaster.

    Ritchie is possibly in a similar position to Enda Kenny in that given the choice again they wouldn’t elect her but getting rid would cause more problems than it would solve.

    Fine Gael’s obvious solution is to run Kenny for the Presidency in 2011. The SDLP may just have to stick it out for a while. Some leaders improve over time and she may be one of them.

    Get somebody like Eoughan Harris to work on her TV performance. People who are seeing her for the first time see an angry person. That’s not going to work. There is a place for anger in debate but not as a first impression. They will probably hold their seats in this election so they will have time to work on it before the next one where it will really matter.

  • Although Cecil Walker’s performance was very poor and at times he did not seem to understand the questions there may have been a reason.

    Walker himself stated afterwards that he was unable to hear all the questions and I believe his hearing was fairly poor. Still he was poor in the debate. Then again laughing at an old man for that and naming a scale of incompetence after him is probably what passes for wit amongst republicans.

    Maybe we should have an Adams scale for lying?

  • Chris Donnelly

    Or a Turgon scale for MOPEing?

  • I admit you would be quite high up on the Adams scale judging by what you have said recently about me.

  • chewnicked

    The mention of Cecil prompts me to recall someof your former politicos’s telly performances-Seamus Lynch was more convincing on Scene Around Six than the party he led while Mary McMahon was plain angry and Danny Morrison plain scary. Mitchell McLaughlin performed well before being sidelined. Was Gerry more believable when his words were spoken by an actor?-lol. In all truth,Adams was easily the most comfortable on the Leaders Debate whilst Ritchie crashed and burned.Seamus Mallon was positively statesmanlike compared to the current leader. Then there was an angry monk-like chap from the DUP called Allister-whatever happened to him?

  • Mick Fealty

    Agree with Henry. There were only binary points on offer in what was overall a scrappy Conference league performance by all concerned.

    At the time, I scored Margaret -1, Gerry 1. And Reg and Peter zero apiece. That’s good for DUP/SF. Opportunity lost for SDLP/UUP.

    But as Turgon rightly notes, Adams is scoring points here by having to lie about his past. That’s not smart politics. There is a ongoing degradation to the party’s standing that’s not great.

    On the Cecil point, (who left politics shortly after) I would want to wait a little longer before deciding Margaret’s career as a leader is over before going down that route.

    What little she did right was to stick to the non sectarian, non tribal politics. Everyone else in this battle has queered their pitch on that score, so it’s something of a unique offering.

    What she did wrong was in sticking to her ‘script’, she did not pivot from points raised by her opponents to her own agenda. For now I would give her the benefit of the doubt.

    As to whether Sinn Fein is providing leadership, I would like some here to elucidate just how that is manifesting itself. All the poster tells us who they are selling time round. This time it is Michelle and Caitríona.

    As an aside, I note Gerry K is at the back, which may suggest he’s not as hot a ticket as we are being led to believe by the recent outbreak of spin in that quarter.

    The best chance of getting Cait into South Down is to keep the conversation tribal and Education as far off the agenda as is humanly possible: the same as with the ‘Save Michelle’ Campaign in FST.

    Eyes down for the rest of the campaign… I still would not be surprised if nothing changed btw. SF, the DUP and most life-threateningly the UUs all have serious vulnerabilities.

    Ironically, for all this talk, only the SDLP look like they will get their parliamentary horses home at a canter. But I suspect our focus on the percentage shares of the vote will tell us a little more about how they are setting themselves up for the next Assembly election.

  • RepublicanStones

    FFS Turgon can Chris not even make comparisons without investigating his thorax ???!!!

  • I’m not sure what the Ritchie strategy is either but I am very clear that:

    •The respective journeys of SF and SDLP to where they are now are so very different. There is nothing wrong Margaret in spelling this out.
    •McGuiness and Adams, respectively late and never of the IRA, have baggage, spell it out.
    •The integrity of leadership carried over from the old regime of armalite and ballot box must be suspect, spell it out.

    Leopards cannot change all of their spots as is evident when Adams promotes the abstentionist role and ridicules the influence of MPs; boasts about his direct access to 10 Downing Street; and sponsors party led pacts/deals rather than democratic choice.

    This is the politics of a man uncomfortable with democratic processes, the politics of a gombeen man, who sidesteps the necessary tedium of day to day consensus building, and heads straight for the top man for a quick wheel and deal. The antithesis of a democrat. Spell it out Margaret.

    This is not playing the man this is playing the ball. You cannot discuss SF without discussing morality, personal integrity and party ethics, they are inextricably linked.

  • RepublicanStones

    I wouldn’t read too much human feng shui into the poster Mick. The bearded one has to be centre (cult of personality and all) with Krusty and Gerry K bookending the picture naturally as the tallest. I don’t think you could have put the two ladies anywhere else, defo not the outsides, as the pic would just look incongruous.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I’d say the positioning of candidates in the photo would possibly have more to do with male/ female symmetry than putting the strongest hopefuls to the front.

    The leadership narrative will be sold- and bought by a majority of the nationalist electorate IMHO- on the basis of the rocky but successful transition from peace process into new devolved era- McGuinness leadership at Executive level (widely acknowledged), the ultimately successful resolution of P & J and the vague sense that devolution is ‘working’ in that it at least is better than what we had before.

    Opponents of the narrative- in this case the SDLP- would need to convince voters that it isn’t the whole picture firstly, and secondly that they’ve something better to offer.

    You’re right about education being an area that Ritchie and her party should be exploiting; but they also need to appear to have something better to offer in terms of providing leadership for nationalists in what remains a stormy and unsettled Executive, as wll as providing a credible nationalist vision (the All-Ireland front.)

    Personally, I believe the SDLP went the wrong direction with Ritchie. McDonnell’s the type of self-driven bulldog who would assume leadership more naturally and, coupled with a move over merging with Fianna Fail, the party would/ could put republicans on the defensive in a relatively short period of time.

    Of course, I might be wrong…we’ll find out in less than a fortnight!

  • Mick Fealty

    I agree with some of what you say there Chris, but it’s the deficit of leadership within nationalism that’s forcing people to stick with a not terribly serviceable product from SF.

    If there is no choice being put before you, who else are you going to vote for? Remember, people voted for the old Nationalist Party for fifty years without any tangible return.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Eogha Harris……well hes worked for EVERYBODY else.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    If these are the six chosen, then its hard to see how any other “group photo” could have been differently arranged. Mr Fealty has obviously not spent a lot of time oransing his aunts and uncles at a family wedding.
    The poster….Looked a wee bit like the opening sequence of “Law & Order” or let me the first to say it “Criminal Minds”
    On the substantive point of Ritchie as leader, she is in the slightly difficult spot where she was victo in a very closely fought election campaign three months ago.

    To some extent Nick Clegg has not put a foot wrong in this campaign and those LDs who thought it was a triumph of spin over the substantial Huhne will be feeling re-assured that they made the right choice. Id guess even Huhne thinks so too.
    While Ritchie might still be able to convince the SDLP people who voted for her , I dont think she will be able to convince a very large section of the Party who didnt vote for her.
    With hindsight the SDLP would not have chosen her.

    The question is therefore whether she can improve or be eased out….with a bit of dignity. Its likea football manager sending on a substitute and then bringing him off again after 20 minutes. Humiliating.
    Within two weeks Ritchie will be a MP. McDonnell MIGHT be. Durkan certainly. And a lot of SDLPpeople will be analysing results in North Antrim, Mid Ulster, FST, and there will be enough ammo there for her critics and possibly the odd saving grace here and there.
    Freed of the “togetherness” of an Election campaign some interviews with Paul Clark and Noel Humphreys after results are declared will be interesting and candid.
    A calm McDonnell might well say its “a time for calm reflection”.
    But a pointy-head McDonnell might well say “that rank amateur cost me and this Party….South Belfast.
    And perhaps he has alrady written his “speech”.
    A full page advert in the Irish News and other papers….taken out by Sinn Féin with a pic of Ritchie in the debate and the single word “Leadership????” would go a long way.
    The basic point is that her performance actually made her Leadership an Electin issue and thats obscuring the SDLP message.

    Id be amazed if Margaret Ritchie is Leader before the Assembly Election. Anyone who wishes the SDLP well would be relunctant to take a side. I have no great wish to kick a person when they are down.
    But there are enough “fig leaves” there for her to get out with a bit of dignity. She can stay MP for South Down, resigning Stormont and the Leadership.
    She can cite health, care of relative issues, work load, even blame the macho culture of Norn Iron Politics.
    But she has to go.
    Two Debates is at least one too many for her.

  • Henry94


    Remember, people voted for the old Nationalist Party for fifty years without any tangible return.

    The last person I heard making that argument was a dissident!

    If the Nationalist Party had power sharing they might have done a bid better. What non-nationalists mean by leadership in nationalism is someone to lead us away from nationalism. Dream on.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Good points Mr Donnelly…..and I would add that the six person photo…….Party Leader and Executive Ministers …has a certain cumulative strength.
    The corresponding pic from the SDLP side……Party Leader plus Executive Ministers……would be JUST Margaret Ritchie.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh Mr Fealty,
    The old Nationalists are a long long way away from the new Nationalists in SDLP & Sinn Féin.

  • Turgon,

    You’re absolutely right. I thought I had included the bit about him being unable to hear, but must have forgotten. I wasn’t intending to insult Walker, who I think was far from the worst in the world. But I also think the point holds that regardless of the reason for his bad performance, he was very, very badly damaged by it, and it resulted in a larger swing to Dodds than otherwise would have happened.

  • Cheers for this Chris. I think Mick has made a very good point by saying that the SDLP’s MPs may well all get returned with little problem. But I still think this debate did Ritchie a lot of damage. As I noted in the original piece, she had made a name for herself as capable of being strong and decisive with her attempt to halt funding to loyalists and her clear rejection of electoral pacts. This performance was completely out of character with that image she has tried to project. As I noted in the comments on the original piece, Alasdair McDonnell on Newsline demonstrated the qualities that are needed for this type of debate. He said he did a good job as an MP even if he did say so himself. It is that kind of brashness that winds people up, but also that kind of robustness that the SDLP could have done with both for this debate and for the next election campaign.

    I don’t think though that Ritchie’s leadership is under threat.

  • Forgive me Chris for mentioning this, but did any of these ‘leaders’ have any policies they wished to implement or share with us, or was it like the UK wide debate, yet another beauty contest?

    Surly any policies the Stormont administration puts forth will have to be a stitch up between all the main parties. If so, it seems a recipe for stagnation and sectarianism to me, without being facetious, what percentage of its election manifesto could a party hope to see become law, etc?

  • medillen

    With regards to Adams and the IRA, I think it needs to be said that Gerry Adams has lay naked on British Army barracks floors following being beaten to a pulp, he and many many others have withstood torture in Castlereagh and other barracks-all in order to NOT reveal whether they were members of the IRA. I do not think a persistent line of questioning by a few media interviewers will do the trick.

  • Brian Walker

    Strange how people can have radically different impressions. I’m out on a limb here in London, less used to current NI debates although I conducted quite a few of them myself years ago.

    Judged for professionalism the whole event was low key, more like the usual round table. It is probably invidious to make close comparisons with the big show. Much less was at stakr. Richie was very amateurish but warmed up I thought and for me scored highest in sincerity over electoral pacts. I’m not making accusatrions but watch out for unconscious as well as deliberate sexism here.

    On Robinson and Adams’ personal difficulties I thought everybody was going through familiar motions. Why did nobody attack Peter over the BBC interview? Why are they all so poor on the economy, even Peter? Because searching questions are seldom asked and the level of general debate on the “normal” domestic public policy agenda is very low.

    Viewers bring a lot of persona and political baggage to these events. and I can’t judge them as a local professional any more.
    Has anyone done a poll? I assume not.
    Overall I didn’t think the debate was unrevealing or boring.
    though I hope for a less laid back occasion next time .

  • I suspect there is an element of male chauvinism here and a search for alpha males to compete with alpha males. Incidentally Jim Dougall must take his share of the blame allowing answers such as the following:

    I’m not going to deal with the cheap points that have been made
    Why weren’t you in the IRA? For the same reason as you weren’t.
    Let me answer Carly’s question first

    Who was running the show? Clearly not Jim Dougall and he was noticeably less deferential to Margaret Ritchie than to the boys.

    Like any other newby Margaret Ritchie will have to grow in the job, and this election came too soon for the new SDLP. But she has made the right strategic decisions thus far most noticeably no pacts with Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail.

  • I’m beginning to be reminded of what happened when I criticised the vacuous absence of politics in the Women’s Coalition project on Slugger, when the accusation of chauvinism was raised on no other evidence than holding people to standards must be chauvinistic.

    I won’t speak for anyone else, but the focus of the criticism was on the reliance on typed notes. As I said in the piece linked by Chris, how can we take a party leader seriously who can’t outline off the top of his/her head in 60 seconds why people should vote for his/her party. There’s nothing sexist, unconscious or otherwise, in that criticism.

    Nor was their anything sexist in my pointing out in the piece that Robinson’s reference to the people of NI giving the DUP a mandate to negotiate implicitly defined the people of NI as unionists rather than the inclusive vision we are being sold now. Nor with any of the other criticisms made.

    As for this point about needing time to grow into the job. Are we really saying that someone who is elected as an MLA, who has functioned for several years as an Executive minister, needs time to grow into being able to talk about politics without needing to obviously read out from typed shets? I’d have thought we all do it down the pub or at work or wherever all the time.

    If there is sexism here, it is in applying different and more sympathetic standards to someone because they are a woman.

  • I am weary of oil slick politicians and Gerry Adams has enough for his own oil rig. Far from impressing I found it disquieting.

    Ritchie did alright. It was not earth shattering, but it was honest. I like that in politicians.

    The host was a bit of a disaster. He was supposed to control the event.

  • Exactly

    “I’m beginning to be reminded of what happened when I criticised the vacuous absence of politics in the Women’s Coalition project on Slugger, when the accusation of chauvinism was raised on no other evidence than holding people to standards must be chauvinistic.”

    Try exploring the tricky issue of immigration and you’ll get the exact same result

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I dont think theres any real “sexism” here but as I have mentioned, (in the message timed at 11.17am……..btw the old Slugger system where messages had a number was easier)…that “macho nature of politics” excuse is there for Ritchie to take when she steps down/is visited by the men and women in suits.
    This woman is no novice…..that business over McGrady resigning/not resigning……and the Uturn on double jobbing (for HER!!!!) and her over-promotion to Minister in the Executive shows she is one cute operator.
    A bit too cute for the “men” in her Party.
    But while dismissing the charge of sexism (real and imagined) I wonder if I myself am being fair to her.

    Her election to be Leader was so jaw droppingly the wrong decision that I have possibly used every morsel of information since then to undermine her. Perhaps others have done the same.
    But her Debate performance just doesnt stand up to any scrutiny. SDLP partisans of course will play down her weaknesses but frankly some are not doing it very convincingly (and yes some of those who backed McDonnell are saying “I told you so”)
    As to her still being Leader before the Assembly Elections.
    WEll of course I want to be “right” in my prediction that she wont.
    Therefore I must do all I can in my limited power to keep her shortcomings in the spotlight.
    Ritchie Must Go.

  • AnObserver

    Curious stuff. I’ve seen Ritchie do much better than this when she doesn’t have notes to hand. I think the SDLP need to stop worrying about her and trying to over-brief her, she’s clearly not as polished a media performer as the others, but when she’s given a bit of freedom and not burdened down with notes she does fine.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Listening to Ritchie feels like being lectured about going to get a haircut by a mad hectoring aunt. It’s like she has to force the words out of her mouth.

    As for the question about why the SDLP elected her over McDonnell who may well be more capable, well .. I think the answer lies in the question. It’s widely known that McDonnell is not a popular figure within the party for a broad variety of reasons. That’s something, fitz, that any “Ritchie Must Go” campaign is going to have to deal with.

    There is a wider question here as to why the talent pool in larger parties such as the UUP and SDLP is so shallow that across the entire party they can’t find someone who would be an effective leader. Maybe politics here is so dire that nobody is attracted to it as a career.

  • Henry94


    I think a Ritchie Must Go campaign would be a complete over-reaction and make things worse. The criticisms are mainly about presentation and that can improve over time with a bit of work.

    What I would like to see is the younger members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP looking for common ground. In a decade or so the people who led us out of the troubles will all be gone and I would question the value of having two nationalist parties.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I agree, Sinn Fein has to go… for the good of nationalism

  • John O’Connell

    Good point apart from the tiny detail that the Troubles are not over by a long shot. The civil war has to fought yet if the Shinners are to lead us into their promised land. An unrepentant Sinn Fein cannot lead us into a united Ireland without having a civil war. But maybe they can repent of using violence.

  • chewnicked

    More harm was self-inflicted in Galway rather than Havelock House by Ritchie. Most SDLP voters’ natural instinct would be to rally around their leader after being on the receiving end of some (verbal) fisticuffs from Big Bad Gerry. After all, they’re well used to it over the years.
    However Margaret’s clumsy and crowd-pleasing dismissal of the SDLP- Fianna Fail link at the Labour Party conference has alientated significant numbers of the rural SDLP vote who see FF as more natural bedfellows than the Irish Labour Party.

  • GavBelfast

    Having preferred to give the local debate a miss (what dreadful scheduling – Scotland and Wales ITV regions both had local debates on the Tuesday evening) in preference for chanel-hopping between the UK leaders debate and Liverpool’s match, I watched it yesterday.

    What a terrible programme! What has UTV come to?

    I’ve never been impressed by Jim Dougal on radio or television, his moderating skills were awful.

    The format was awful.

    The style was awful.

    The audience participation was paltry.

    There is no effort worth speaking about to pitch to “the other side” in the debates. And, goodness, Adams and Robinson went out of their way to avoid ANY conflict, quite surreal.

    Looking forward to better from Thompson or, more likely, Carruthers two days before polling day on BBC NI. Frankly, it wouldn’t be difficult.

    PS. TUV and Allister should be taking part – Alliance because they are contesting 18 seats and TUV because they got 13% of the vote in the last actual election in the region. It would also liven it up a bit.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Comrade Stalin, youre absolutely right on McDonnell not being popular within SDLP circles. He has managed to cheese off just about everybody. But two points.
    He is not necessarily the “leader” in waiting.
    Secondly when is fire is directed against the partys enemies, he is really quite effective.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Again point taken on a Ritchie Must Go “campaign”. The Party does not need blood letting and division.
    But a quiet word in Ritchies ear in a few months time…..maybe thru her mentor McGrady……no admission of failure on her part….just “concentrate on Westminster”. After all her decision that it is ok for her to double job might well have annoyed some Party colleagues in South Down who might have felt they were due promotion to Stormont…ex MLA Eamonn O’Neill perhaps…maybe Marietta Farrell (who was parachuted unsuccessfully into Lagan Valley in 2007…is she still active?)
    As Ive outlined there are enough ways to get her out without blood letting and humiliation.

    There IS Common Ground between SDLP and SF…but neither Party see it that way.
    The SDLP think it was “them wot won it” for Nationalism (ie Politics won)
    For Sinn Féin it is a case that it was “them wot won it” (ie “the Armed Struggle”).
    So they call each other Shinners and Stoopies.
    But probably their voters are not as hostile as their members.
    The truth I believe is that we are here today…where we are…thru Politics AND Freedom Fighting/Terrorism (delete as applicable).
    But I think Henry that TWO Parties ARE necesaary.
    Nationalism…indeed Unionism also…needs Alternatives within their own tribes.

    SDLP and Sinn Féin activists will of course recoil from the very thought that they are different sides of the same coin…but they are.

  • I congratulate all that have participated in this thread today. Unwittingly we collectively appear to have stumbled upon the touchstone for leadership namely how well a candidate performs on a televised debate. Nothing else apparently matters. Bad news for the more industrious, the more consensensual, the more honourable,the more democratic, the more trustworthy, the less divisive, the less autocratic, the less hand held by the British government, the less polished.

    Political commentators comment, that’s what they do. If Ritchie is word perfect some will say she’s over rehearsed and false, if she shows passion some will say she’s strident, if she lobs turds some will say she’s emulating the boys. Others will say differently. But to judge an entire future on one performance. Sheer bollix.

    And what’s more; for those still in denial of the recent interminable democratic election. Margaret Ritchie won. Get over it and get on with the job of improving Ritchie.

  • You don’t judge a car solely by the speed it can go articles, but you wouldn’t by a car that didn’t carry out the basic funcitons you need of it. Being able to comptently represent your party and convince voters is the one of the most basic functions of any party leader. Not that I think that anyone is judging an entire future on the basis of this interview. I think it may though have crystallised some other concerns that people have.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Garibaldy, if that were the case, Gerry would have stood down from Sinn Fein. His performance at the last elections in the south was much worse than Ritchies.

    Robinson would have sunk over his outbursts.

    Reg might survive but more through making no blunders on Tv rather than doing much good.

    The idea that Ritchie isn’t representing the party ridiculous. She has to take the bull by the horns to give the party direction. I think her speech in Galway was long overdue – the FF merger should have been ruled out long ago. Apart form that, she has a great record as Minister to run on and next to that this poor performance in a debate that would never have allowed her to perform, is small fry

  • JoeJoe

    Why do bloggers always say that Alasdair McD is ‘disliked’ within the SDLP?

  • slug


    I have to say I find Ritchie’s policy position a lot clearer than Durkans and I also like it – its more clearly Labour.

  • I’m not actually anti-Ritchie at all. She is the leader in the debate I would have most time for. But I do think that from the point of view of the SDLP, she was the wrong choice. But, as I said above, she did well in establishing herself as someone willing to take clear stances and in creating a strong profile. But none of that excuses what was a ridiculously bad performance, and it did her a lot of damage, and reading from notes consistently made her look like she lacked the ability to debate with the other three, and made you wonder what she actually had to say. As it happens, regarding the speech in Galway, I think she made a mistake in her opening lines with that speech where she said something to the effect that people mightn’t know who she was. This was at her sister party’s conference, and as a successor to John Hume. She might have been being honest, but it was a mistake. Compare it to McDonnell blowing his own trumpet. You need a bit of that sometimes, and the SDLP certainly needs it loud and clear.

    As for Lionel’s point about Adams. I’m tempted to say he was representing what his party had to say, it was just that what they had to say was far from what was required, especially when it came to detail. It was noticeable he had figures available to him for this debate.

  • Lionel Hutz


    Thats probably true about Adams, but you get my point. I don’t think this is going to damage her as much as people make out. The fact is that Northern Ireland debates are not going to be revealing and the main interest is in indulging in a bit of schandenfreud in respect of some scandal or another.

    I do agree with you that the SDLP have to be a bit more boistrous. The difficulty is that while SF and the DUP can do that with their usual blinkered billigerence. When the SDLP try it,as they have on occassion, it can backfire. What the SDLP have to resurrect is that statesman like manner of Mallon, Hume and Rodgers. Just an air of “we know what we are, we know whats right”. And despite her relatively poor communication skills,Ritchie is atleast reminding the party what they are – the belief that they are right will come after

  • Comrade Stalin

    fitz, I’m wondering who else would obviously be up for being leader. I’m assuming Alban had reasons for not standing in the contest.

    I was going to say that another leadership contest at this stage might be damaging, then I remembered how the Liberal Democrats seem to have pulled through alright ..

  • If media performance is the major function of a party leader then Gerry Adams’ experience with Noel Thompson on Thursday’s Hearts and Minds should have had him kicked out the door.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Comrade Stalin,
    Good question and Im not sure I have a good answer.
    McDonnell is obviously still in the running.
    McGlone is Deputy Leader and probably the “ma in the suit” who would most likely be approached by Branch Secretaries etc to tell Margaret Ritchie to retire to the library and do the decent thing. Now a realistic runner.
    And could we rule out a Durkan return as “interim leader”. I hold Alex Attwood in very high regard but not sure hes leadership.
    Dominic Bradley, i also like.
    And SDLP members seem very fond of Declan O’Loan.
    The SDLP could do much worse than Alban Magennis but he is maybe not ideal for the rough and tumble. Right now the SDLP need a bruiser and………Id go with Durkan.
    I still think Magennis will get a top law job sooner or later. Chief Justice, DPP, something of that order.

  • Granni Trixie

    Performance on TV or radio is related to experience – after a short learning curve you can see a significance difference (and boy do I remember my first goes on the radio!).
    But I would have expected that Margaret Ritchie had long been through that learning curve so I am not sure that she is going to improve.

    Then take the disastrous Stephen Agnew interview with Stephen Nolon on Friday – to several questions he had to reply “I don’t know” and there were embarassed silences. Whilst in some ways it was refreshing to have a politican admit, “I dont know”, a more experienced one would have dealt more satisfactorily with complex questions for which there is no one ‘right’ answer.

    Agree with CS – it says much about the SDLP that the best they can do is McDonnell for Leader should MR not work out longer term.

  • slug

    Agnew is great at any interviews I’ve seem.

  • Damian O’Loan

    On Ritchie’s position as leader, I’d have no doubt that it is as safe as before the debate. That’s not to defend her performance but because, as Mick says, it’d be simply far too early to judge. To change leaders twice like that in a few months would make you seem like a party of indecisive idiots. It’s rightfully out of the question.

    What’s more frustrating to me is the line that the SDLP are not interested in a sectarian battle. Were that true, it’s attacks would not be completely focussed on SF, which indicates that only republican votes are of interest to the SDLP. Of course the same is true in reverse, but nobody’s accusing SF of not being sectarian. Why not just criticise bad politics where it is to be found, there’s no shortage at Stormont or Westminster.

    This marks the failure of the political leaders, who have devised a very good agreement with a less good amendment, allowing them to focus on real politics. Now they are as exposed as the Emperor. That’s understandable, but the taste of refinement that holding office brings is clearly an obstacle to the process of regeneration that should be taking place.

    No doubt the next debate will be better formatted. No doubt Ritchie’s performance, as on Inside Politics yesterday, will be much the same. No doubt the real questions, such as how to salvage an economy in a continent under attack and everything to suggest that there is no hope of revitalisation without major realignment, will be ignored. No doubt Gerry Adams will be delighted to ‘deny’ IRA involvement, Empey will deny the inherent contradictions at the heart of Trimble’s pact, Robinson will play Il Duce badly. No doubt turnout will be low.

    It’s an insulting charade all round and the lack of humility is breathtaking.

    Incidentally, two points off topic. Implementing PR in the UK would be impossible without abolishing the monarchy and creating a Presidential office. Republicans should be talking about this. Secondly, like the new site, though the left/right column balance is strange. Is the point conversation or advertising?

  • Henry94

    Implementing PR in the UK would be impossible without abolishing the monarchy and creating a Presidential office.

    You’ll have to explain that one Damian

    Denmark has both PR and a Monarchy. Why can’t the British?

  • slug

    I expect she will grow into the post.

  • slug

    “Implementing PR in the UK would be impossible without abolishing the monarchy and creating a Presidential office. Republicans should be talking about this.”

    This isn’t going to happen as the Royal Family is popular.

    Regarding PR there is no reason HoC and Upper Chamber can’t have PR. But AV is the more likely model.

  • slug

    “What’s more frustrating to me is the line that the SDLP are not interested in a sectarian battle”

    You WANT a sectarian battle?

  • Damian O’Loan

    No, I want the SDLP like all parties, to criticise unconstructive policies, not ignore their own good ideas in favour of sectarian battle.

  • Damian O’Loan

    I’d like to but I’ll wait for it to be raised in a thread. Basically though, by dissipating the voices you would need to offer a counter-weight of coherency. Having said that, given all three parties differ only on their opinion of who can best implement the ‘market’s’ desire, you could perhaps implement it tomorrow with no tangible effect, or you could just let the ‘market’ take over altogether.

  • John Joe

    Is there not an elephant in the room here over the SDLPs supposed non-sectarian, non-tribal political face. Effectively, whether they like it or not, they are strongly perceived as nationalist by unionist voters and the vast bulk of their vote comes from people with nationalist/Catholic backgrounds.
    It is interesting, now the pretence of UNCUF intravenously administering normal politics has evaporated, to compare the intra-unionist contest where there is practically no concession to the idea that any of the parties will attract meaningful votes from across the political spectrum. Whether people like it, agree with it or down right hate it, there is at least an element of honesty there.
    The non-sectarian mantra of the SDLP is as much of a public fiction as the I-was-never-in-the-IRA position that Gerry Adams takes up. The reality is that they are competing with SF for votes from nationalists, not with SF, the UUP, DUP and TUV etc. If the SDLP were truly non-tribal they have joined the Alliance in their own personal pergatory in the Assembly.
    So, in some respects, I don’t think the issue with Ritchie is simply one of assessing leadership qualities on media sound-bytes, I think there is an ice-berg factor here for any current SDLP leader. Their stance may be applauded by political and cultural commentators for its good intentions, but it sends mixed messages to the electorate with a contradiction between what they’d like to be (a cross community party) and what they are (a nationalist party). Its a square that the SDLP just can’t circle.

  • I think there’s confusion here between election and politics.

    I will never vote for either the DUP or Sinn Fein, and in the past I have voted for both SDLP and UUP, and in the future can see myself voting also for the Greens and the Alliance should the opportunity for a useful vote arise. I suspect that there are quite a few like me who vote tactically.

    In the day to day business of politics outside of the elections I would hope that the UUP and SDLP in time see some common centre ground where they can usefully build structures founded on mutual trust. SDLP must therefore be a party with whom the UUP can do business, and vice versa. That requires morality, personal integrity and party ethics.

    Sir Reg eMPey (in waiting) has chosen to attach himself to the Conservative bandwagon thus temporarily taking a roundabout detour but in time his successor will return to the crossroads and will be faced with the crucial decision.

    For all sorts of reasons the DUP and SF have reached their zenith and they are now in long term decline though the occasional event might indicate otherwise. The UUP and SDLP have to be ready when the DUP and SF implode.

  • John O’Connell


    You may not feel able to square the circle but this society must start somewhere in terms of breaking down the divisions. That is the road to a united Ireland rather than Sinn Fein’s road which entails fighting a Bosnia conflict at some stage in the future.

  • Anna

    I think that Margaret Ritchie should be given credit for making some really tough and brave decisions in the past couple of weeks, especially regarding the pact stuff. It would have been easy for her to just agree with Gerry and make a quick win electorally but the fact she has stuck to her principles suggests she is more a force to be reckoned with than many are giving her credit for. She does lack the experience of the other leaders, there is no doubt, but she is only in the door in that respect and surely we should be more interested in her substance rather than her style, the fact that this is what people are obsessing over is a bit bizarre. It would appear to me that some people are almost willing her to fail without giving her time to prove herself, and from reading some posts there are shades of unacknowledged misogyny apparent. I think she is making huge strides to realign the party and move away from the green and orange but it appears that you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t, with critisicm emanating from her not being green enough as well as those who proclaim to be post-constitional but mocking her attempts to make good her commitments on a shared future. I’d rather reserve judgement on any party leaders performance based on their follow through rather than their soundbites.

  • Co. Down Man

    where is your evidence of either SF or DUP ‘ in long term decline’

  • slug

    After the election Margaret Ricthie will appoint a fresh minister, possibly Conal McDevitt.

  • John Joe

    I wasn’t trying to take a moral position on it John. I was just pointing to a recurrent problem for leaders of the SDLP in having to adopt a contradictory public stance. As Articles points out there are people who have swapped votes between UUP and SDLP, not many I suspect and the number has been dropping since the heydays of the UUP-SDLP led Asssembly. There will probably even less now since the UUP/Tory link-up didn’t apparently think of asking the SDLP to agree a compromise candidate in their “attempt to get representation at Westminister for F/ST” etc. It makes the SDLP appear as some forlorn, oft-betrayed spouse that a lot of people have public sympathy for but that have acquired an aura of vulnerability and weakness that is hard to shift. I’m not an SDLP supporter, but I think that is the reailty that underlies their perception by the electorate.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Indeed grannie……but I was once told that I had the perfect face for radio.

  • cynic2

    “I’m not sure what the Ritchie strategy”

    …..neither is she from the look of things

  • PP

    The SDLP have an identity crisis. The nationalist electorate want strong leadership to counter the unionist strategy of anyone but a shinner.

    It seems though the SDLP prefer unionist votes to help them beat Sinn Fein than nationalist votes to beat unionists.

    The SDLP have allowed Sinn Fein to steal their clothes while they are trying to steal the clothes off of the alliance party. This strategy will see the SDLP stay in decline.

  • John O’Connell

    John Joe

    You’re right to an extent but you know that it is probably only in the North of Ireland that you’ll get this kind of logic to work. Sectarian is good, sectarian is strength and the rest. It just shows that we are an abnormal society heading for a major adjustment. (like Bosnia was).

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I probably should have been a little bit more restrained with the SDLP canvasser who called at our house around 3pm today.
    In part I wanted to get over my message that Ritchie was a disaster in the debate…and rather stupidly I assumed that my attitude would surprise the canvasser…..but she launched into an immediate defence which indicated that she was briefed on what to say if Ritchie was an issue.

    The Party line seems to be that
    …she improved as it went on
    …she has less experience than the others on the Panel.
    So obviously I replied she didnt improve and if she couldnt compete with the other three then she shouldnt be there.
    Now in full flow, I mntioned the cute deal with McGrady and stitching up McDonnell….but by this stage the canvasser was avoiding eye contact.
    I told her to put me down as a “maybe”.

  • Sorry Co. Down man, i have been away from the board.

    I suggest that history shows that

    single issue parties such as SF and DUP and their followers, albeit surrounded with a rag bag of other policies, have a limited life span unless they can successfully transform themselves into coalitions of interests especially if they have failed in their raison d’être;

    most parties regress towards the centre over time, even Clause IV in the labour party was originally a right wing cause;

    fascist parties (SF and DUP both married party politics to violence or the threat of violence under autocratic leadership) require a political vacuum;


    after a period of stealing clothes both DUP and SF are now in the driving seat and clothes will be stolen from them, the TUV are already at the washing lines;

    I suggest that the leadership of both parties have baggage not all of which has been recovered/uncovered and examined, and both have legacy issues;

    I suggest that both parties have been hand held by the NIO/British government and that over time as DUP but SF in particular become further enmeshed in democratic politics this sponsorship will diminish;

    In addition

    The UUP, post Sir Reg eMPey (in waiting) having been trounced by the DUP, will return to the crossroads and re-evaluate their political offer;

    The SDLP will at some stage start telling the truth about SF.

    So in answer to your question, evidence no, opinions yes.