That’s something that gets put to me again and again. With the exception of Jim Gibney (who’s actually just a little too close to the party machine to be an effective opinion former), Brian Feeney and Fionnuala O’Connor in the Irish News and our own Chris Donnelly’s occasional piece for the BelTel who can all give a good account of a Sinn Fein perspective on the world, there are few mainstream commentators who can give a decent sympathetic view point of the two main parties.
What’s even more disturbing is that the DUP, the biggest party in Northern Ireland by some considerable way, has virtually no sympathetic voice in the MSM (nor even on Slugger these since we lost Fair Deal to the party).
You might say why does it matter, when the press in Northern Ireland is outnumbered so completely by Stormont’s press officer core?
I remember Ruth Dudley Edwards saying that you can never write a biography of anyone without a high degree of empathy with their journey through life. We have very few internal reference points for the two largest parties in the NI political sphere. For me this makes us more not less vulnerable to spin, as it becomes increasingly problematic to understand motivations of those in charge of what are fast becoming some of most inscrutable political institutions in the democratic world.
So when I see a SF friendly headline in the BelTel this morning on Niall O’Donghaille’s resignation, I’m disappointed to discover it’s written by his party’s leader on the City Council whose arguments are fine, but who necessarily will carry less weight because he is, so far as the party is concerned, still his line manager.
I’m not suggesting that the papers contact the press offices of each party for a secondee. The best advocates for a line of thinking are best detached from the party itself so they are not bound organisationally in to the party line. It’s critical that on some level we can trust that this is a thinking individual, not a hack.
That said, it’s a few years now since Fair Deal left us, leaving a serious gap in our own political spectrum. If you are broadly in sympathy with what the DUP are trying to achieve but not attached (where FD broadly was when he joined Slugger) and you want to try your hand, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org… We don’t even mind if you end up getting poached by one of the bigger fish.