SDLP try an ‘insider trading card’ to connect with Sinn Fein’s base?

So the Commissioner for Public Appointments says that OFMdFM were bang out of order in their appointments to the board of the new Maze facility… Why?  Because much of the political activity of the new appointees was not declared according to the rules of the CPA. [Where have we heard that one before? – Ed]

Ironically, by the strict rules of the CPA, the chair – you know, the one Sinn Fein officials initially made a great fuss over, does not have to declare he is a member of the DUP [You what? – Ed]. Mark Devenport has the inside track:

Mr Brannigan got an early taste of the sensitivities involved when Sinn Fein officials got into a minor flurry of excitement over his DUP membership.

The Maze chair said he had not ticked the political activity box on his application form because, although he was a DUP member, he hadn’t engaged in canvassing or any of the activities he’d been asked about.

After an hour or so, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness killed the story by blaming reporters for getting energised about the matter.

This was a bit rich, as Sinn Fein officials had raised it with the media in the first place, but the party obviously then decided there was no point disrupting a project they want to move ahead.

As it happens, the former Sinn Fein Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Pat Joe O’Donnell does not have to declare which party he gave his donations by CPA rules.

This is the second time this week the party has rolled away from an ‘official’ sham fight confrontation with the DUP… The party had been initially supportive of a motion of no confidence from the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, on the behaviour of Nelson McCausland in respect of the breaching of a Parades Commission ruling (5mins in):

But for all the ferocity of their attack on the DUP for its rather questionable positioning on the breach of the PC’s ruling on Donegall Street there has been a no show from Sinn Fein.

In fact, I suspect there is the not least chance of scoring a hit against McCausland since he’s being criticised by both Sinn Fein and the SDLP more for sins of omission rather than commission.

But it seems the SDLP may have learned something useful in the last year: ie, that politics is a competitive sport; and making the right sort of trouble for your opponent is good for business.

To that I’d also add some others:

  • You don’t have to go into official Opposition to play an oppositionalist card;
  • Capacity to disrupt is enhanced with only one ministerial pressure point inside the Executive;
  • The best way of drawing votes back from Sinn Fein may be to hit the DUP and ask your rivals to join you.

The slightness of the case against McCausland means this issue is almost certain to go nowhere. But the insider trading card is no doubt a valuable one to play.

What they (and the UUP) need now is a much stronger policy base from which to prosecute the next election. And identify – and connect with – the real concerns of real people and offer a platform that is: a, credible; and b, has the capacity to shift votes.

As the old saying goes, tus maith, leath na hoibre

, , , , ,

  • I should of course declare an interest. I am a member of SDLP.
    And yes its been a good year. But one word….”Girdwood” and two more words “Civil Rights”.

    The perception is that DUP and SF are joined at the hip. A sham fight or a sham marriage and are engaged in trades-off. They take a summer break (July/August) to motivate their hard core voters by fighting with each other.
    And then return to the business in hand.
    Girdwood is a civil rights issue…….and what the SDLP needs to do is find a civil rights dimension to every decision…and its not that difficult. For a start its a unifying phrase in a Party made up of socialists, nationalists and republicans with degrees of emphasis.

    Id argue that the Maze is less contentious than Girdwood… the sense Girdwood is about Housing (real politics) and the Maze and appointees are totemic.
    And of course Girdwood is in North Belfast and so is Nelson McCausland. I think its an open question how close he is to the centre of the DUP and just how valuable he is. Arguably his value to DUP is that he extends their influence beyond “gene pool” into the “independent unionist” territory.

    There are clear opportunities for SDLP and the Decade of Centenaries is an excellent opportunity.
    Many nationalists including myself deserted SDLP to vote Sinn Féin in the 1990s and in my case to 2009. I think the nationalist floating voter is an underestimated person. Clearly modertae nationalists who voted SF are unlikely to become dissidents….but (in varying degrees) some decisions have caused people to think twice…..maybe its jobs for the boys/girls, maybe its “cuts”, maybe its the treatment of “dissident” prisoners……….none will affect SFs hard core membership because they are wedded to the Project but the ordinary voter might wonder. Likewise SF might well see it as necessary to “back” Nelson McCausland but that necessity might be lost on just 75 SF voters in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
    Especially with a degree of vigourous canvassing going on.

    There is no real mechanism for Opposition and one SDLP minister versus five SF ministers is a card that is being played well.
    A “good start” but its not even 10% of the “work”

  • fitzjameshorse (and Mick),

    Tosaíonn turas de míle míle le aon chéim amháin

  • stewart1

    There is no former Sinn Fein Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast called Pat O’Donnell? *shakeshead*

  • Mick Fealty

    Damn… #facepalm

  • Mick,
    McCauseland has a much bigger problem on his hands:

    Perhaps the SDLP should focus on this?

  • Reader

    Bangordub: Perhaps the SDLP should focus on this?
    Could be a shot in the arm/foot for the SDLP depending on whether the other contractors turn out to have been just as bad as Red Sky after all.
    Probably a lot safer and more effective to dig away at SF’s constantly deflating reputation for, well, just about everything.

  • Reader,
    I think the SDLP need to take a few risks

  • Lionel Hutz

    When I read stories like this I think it’s good politics but its never going to be enough. Hitting Sinn Fein with a thousand paper cuts isn’t going to motivate the real SDLP target – their own would be voters who just don’t quite see the point anymore.

    It’s only policy that can do that. And at a time when NI has higher unemployment than GB, voters would respond to that. But is it possible to form policy in Stormont.

    Still its good fun and good politics

  • Jack2


    The article you referenced is one the best investigative pieces in N.I I’ve read. Too used to utv & bbc only scratching the surface.
    Have bookmarked thedetail for the future.

  • I agree with Jack. As mentioned previously, I was a bit worried about my head falling off from all the shaking.
    Incredible attempts to bully an “Arms Length” Public Organization by self-serving politicos and essentially driving the Chairman to resign in apparent disgust.
    I wonder how much of that goes on that we don’t hear about?

  • One further thing, the Chairman showed incredible restraint. Not a few CEOs I have known would have had Security come to “assist” the ruffians out of his office shortly after the meeting started.

  • andnowwhat

    Slightly off topic but why is the Detail going what, the presumably better financed, BBC and UTV are not?

    Was the famous interview with Robinson in his living room the death Knell of journalism in this burb?

  • I never hear of The Detail until BD’s link. Excellent site, now bookmarked.

  • “I never hear of The Detail”

    Always worth looking at the backers, Joe. Financial support can inhibit freedom of manoeuvre.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, so we’re talking about a story on the detail now… Thanks BD!

    Not sure how backing your own minister against the DUP accusation (unchallenged in the article) that “there are serious problems in the Housing Executive as regards the management and monitoring of contracts” qualifies as ‘clever politics’?

    Although I absolutely agree with Lionel that any return as recognisably modern political project on the part of the SDLP requires a lot of heavy lifting on policy, picking your fights is important too. This is not a fight I would be relishing if I were the SDLP, not least because there is a tangible whiff of incompetence involved, not to mention a little sectarian colouring…

  • “Capacity to disrupt is enhanced with only one ministerial pressure point inside the Executive”

    Here’s a small project which will demonstrate the minister’s ability to disrupt. I would be surprised if the outcome will differ much from those during the reign of his DUP predecessors.

  • Neil

    Cracking article. Will it grow legs? Doesn’t fit in with the whole ‘excellent, another photo opp, where’s my basket of puppies’ NI narrative, so not so sure.

  • “that politics is a competitive sport”

    Quite, and the SDLP-APNI-UUP are also far too decent; the DUP-SF axis don’t mind a bit of ‘man and ball’ stuff.

  • john

    Am I being a bit slow here? Why are SF so quiet on the housing matter. Surely it is in their interest to get as many new homes built for nationalists seeing as they are so close to catching Doddsy in the NB Westminster election. First it looked like a boundary change might save Dodds now it might be SF incompetence!!!

  • Jack2

    “Okay, so we’re talking about a story on the detail now… Thanks BD! ”

    Mick – I did send you an email about an irregularity in an MLA’s expenses from a while back. No reply was received.

    Done the leg work myself.

    Now have a letter in from the Standards Commissioner that reads:
    “Having considered your complaint, I have determined that it is admissible under the code. Consequently, an investigation of the conduct complained of will now be undertaken”

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but a sitting MLA is being investigated for a possible expenses irregularity. If the complaint is upheld you can have first go at the story.

  • GavBelfast


    If the Ulster Unionist Party was brave enough to go into Opposition, too, would you want the SDLP and UUP to ‘combine’ as an opposition, work together to show the DUP/SF sham for what it is, or plough entirely separate furrows?

  • GavBelfast

    (I should say that, for what it’s worth, if the SDLP went into opposition and I liked what they had to say, I’d consider voting for them. The border is issue is, after all, efectively settled until if and when there’s a border poll.)

  • Buster79

    Politition’s on the fiddle, shock horror maybe our “wee country” is starting to catch up with the rest of the world, what with normal politics and scandals and corruption !!!
    All we need now is an affair thrown in for good measure, maybe being a reporter is more fun than I originally expected !

  • tacapall

    “Mick, McCauseland has a much bigger problem on his hands”

    Is it the fault of the contractor or the workers if sub standard or unfinished work is carried out as the new contractors who now carry out the NIHE’s repairs or maintenance is actually the same people who carried it out while employed by Red Sky. Is this new contractor Red Sky under a different name or has the new contractor been foolish enough to employ the same people.

  • tacapall,

    Just a point. A perfectly capable Tradesman or woman can be pressured by the employer to cut corners to save time and that could cause substandard work.

  • “Because much of the political activity of the new appointees was not declared according to the rules of the CPA.”

    Sam McBride maintains the pressure on the OFMDFM

    Last night the department said that it would issue a statement today with the information which should have been in Monday’s statement.

    One of those appointed, Paul Stewart, is a DUP councillor, while another, Jack Gallagher, is a former adviser to Mr Robinson. Queen’s academic Professor Tony Gallagher declared “administrative support” for an unnamed political party.

  • jthree

    “Slightly off topic but why is the Detail going what, the presumably better financed, BBC and UTV are not?”

    Maybe I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure it was the BBC’s Andy Martin and Kevin Magee who broke the Red Sky story in 2010 and made the running thereafter?

    And they also sniffed through another pile of HE filth

  • GavBelfast,
    There is simply no mechanism for Opposition.
    I would probably have favoured withdrawal from the Executive in a particular circumstance (which I dont want to go into here) but the time has passed.
    I honestly dont care one way or other about the UUP.
    At no level do they reflect my principles or the interests of my self/family.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    This is turning into a sectarian omnishambles for Nelson.

    First he defends the sectarian magic roundabout

    Next he condones law breaking by marching bands,

    Threatening the NIHE for not reversing a decision on cancelling a contract to a company which has been lining its pockets with tax payers money which was wrongly paid.

    and this:

    DSD selling land, procured by the government for town expansion and now being sold at a fraction of its value to an evangelical church.

    All of this has more than whiff of sectarianism but he’s also essentially stealing from the tax payer to help groups some would consider sympathetic to the DUP.

    How is he still in a job? Any one of those would be enough. I wonder if the SDLP would have waited another few days would they have got more supporters for their motion?

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Jack2…


    One, you cannot get rid of a minister, unless his party sacks him… So anyone banking on a short term result like heads rolling is in cloud cuckoo land…

    Two, if you think the Red Sky story is only about Red Sky, then you are swallowing baby along with some pretty murky bathwater. Try reading the relevant audit report about the companies the Red Sky contracts were transfered to by the Housing Executive without any tendering?

    It’s this that the DUP say they were fighting, not Red Sky (whose behaviour has been indefensible)…

    The only pressures a smaller party can bring are political and incremental… also, if you just go down the ‘we hate prods more than you do’ you end up with a nationalist version of the UUP’s problem which is flip out of the centre and end up on the edge with the dissident Republicans…

    That’s exactly where SF would like the SDLP to go… They may even end up there by default, if they cannot plan their way back to some form of political majority…

    Just landing a blow on the DUP is not good enough… they be blows that open up the centre as well as creating an appeal towards the edge…

    Quite so, jthree…

  • No……landing blows on the DUP are not enough. But landing blows on Nelson McCausland is “better” especially when Sinn Féin cant or wont do it.
    Mixing metaphors here……but nationalist voters might well wonder why SF are choosing to miss an open goal with McCausland.
    If SF is letting its republican principles slip just to accomodate its partner (DUP) then there is certainly a front opened for SDLP. I have been arguing for quite some time that this is the case.
    Its absolutely right to say that the DUP are the only people who can sack McCausland (thats normal in coalitions) …and he is probably untouchable because he reaches parts of the DUP voter base that others cant.
    Indeed…..nominally Dodds is the #1 DUP man in North Belfast but McCausland I believe has overtaken him.

    So Id suggest that (from a nationalist) perspective the (political) focus has to be McCausland.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    thanks Mick,

    Absolutely right about the minister only being removed by his own party, I was really getting at the idea of would that level of incompetence be tolerated in places that doesn’t have a semi-detached politburo setup?

    Regarding Redsky, i remember reading about some companies that they tendered to from the slugger articles alst year but took some time to read about a few more. I don’t see what relevance it has though. Certainly the DSD civil servant acting on Nelson’s behalf doesn’t mention them. If you’re saying there’s plenty of blame to go around then great. Let’s have a full expose thread on it. My point was purely on the minister’s position that contracts with red sky should not be cancelled… why?

    While it’s tempting to view it as “We hate…” there is still a ministerial code being ignored here. If the SDLP could get 15 signatures from the UUP and say, the green, they’d have they’re motion. Sadly that’s unlikely, but there are still party politics at play here as well as sectarian bun fighting. SDLP have nothing to gain by trying to out-green SF, they should just focus on positions of good government which the bigger parties are regularly trampling on.

    I think there are a lot of centrists who take more issue with the DUP having an evangelical slant on almost every department they control (not Arlene obviously). I think it hits both parties, and the SDLP needs more two-pronged attacks like this. But they’ve an awful lot to do.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s relevant in siting the incompetence. I will try to get round to a thread on the audit office report, but for the most part the Red Sky is a party hack driven story.

    Nelsons refusal to back the commission is more serious.

    My understanding is they are not likely to get any backing. Not even from Steven Agnew (though I’ve not asked him his view on that)..

    Truth is the structure of the move is what interests me, the content is it’s weakness. The party needs to seriously review the political game to find where it can best attack and leave others no choice but to follow them.

    Then they stand a decent chance of growing rather than burning votes… The conference this autumn will be interesting to see if they’ve made any progress on this…

  • lamhdearg2

    What if i where to tell you that the H.E is spending 50.000+ doing up property that is earmarked for “gutting” come december. Nelson has the H,E by the Balls, they picked Red Sky, out of all the dodgy contractors because?.

    taca, you mean they still have the cheek to send proddy workmen into irish nationalist west belfast, dont worry yourself, they may do the same shit job that they and the r.c. workmen do on proddy propertys, but now their bosses are irish nats and linked to nationalist partys.

  • lamhdearg,

    As I mentioned earlier, the problem with the shoddy jobs may not be the “workers”. Bosses often have their employees by the balls, especially if there is high unemployment, and can force them to cut corners – or else.

  • Can you guess that twice in my life, I have been a Union Representative, in different countries?

  • lamhdearg2

    Joe, my “shit job” your shoddy work, the/a back ground to this case is reports of shoddy work, first reported by sdlp and s.f polits, the shoddy work they claimed, was done in west belfast by an east belfast based company, they started a witch hunt and someone (no names) at the H.E decided that red sky would be the one and only scape goat.

    ps, I have seen first hand H.E contractors work, and it did not matter it the workmans name was Sean or Billy or Adalbert, the work was never good,

    best now we let micks thread drift back to the sdlp,
    although my intervention has a slight link, in thay it was an sdlp minister and a sf counciler that shall we(I) say started the red sky pursuit.

  • Ok, going back to Mick’s post.
    I think the old chestnut of UUP and SDLP forming a de-facto opposition from within the executive is being raised.
    Why in the name of yer Man above would the SDLP align themselves with the UUP unless they really did have a death wish?
    We all know what happened in Fermanagh to the SDLP when it was percieved to facilitate a Unionist electoral pact. It may never recover from that. I am not suggesting that they should not challenge SF. Of course they they should, but they need to choose their battles.
    Unionist outreach didn’t work.
    Nationalism Lite didn’t work.
    They aren’t going to outgreen SF.
    So what is the strategy?

  • tacapall

    “Taca, you mean they still have the cheek to send proddy workmen into irish nationalist west belfast, dont worry yourself, they may do the same shit job that they and the r.c. workmen do on proddy propertys, but now their bosses are irish nats and linked to nationalist partys.”

    No I dont mean that at all Lamh2. I mean its the same workers who said fk all while their workmanship was put into the public spotlight, if their employers told them to do substandard work then surely someone from the workforce would have come forward and revealed all rather than be seen as unskilled. Believe me I was in the same line of work and at the same time as Red Sky, I know a lot of the workers, I know how favors were done to gain contracts and I’ve seen for myself people being paid for work that they hadn’t even carried out, or people creating work for contractors to carry out. That didn’t just happen on the loyalist side either you just dont know the half of it, my eyes were well and truely opened.

  • andnowwhat


    The third letter in SDLP says enough of why the former UNCUF have nothing in common with them. I say this leaving the whole constitutional and mutual history aside.

  • ANW,
    It seems to me that everything in all of the parties is precisely about Constitutional things and History. Isn’t that the problem?

  • It took quite a while before I actually realized that there was no provision for an opposition. It didn’t seem quite…What’s the word… normal?, kosher?, democratic?
    Then I remembered; N.I. isn’t quite ….What’s the word…?

  • stewart1

    In some ways i think the SDLP are quite similar to the UUP. they are both conservative. They both have huge issues in supporting the right to marriage equality & they both represent a conservative, old-school religious base.

    I think this similarity is more likely to lead to their eventual extinction rather than some sort of constructive opposition.

  • tacapall

    Joe its actually more democratic the way things are, both sides have proven they are unfit to govern unless they are on a tight reign from someone, and that someone has to be from the opposite side of the fence, the British have their own agenda and have in the past stood back and allowed Unionism to misrule pushing parties in that direction before its time is a recipe for disaster, we are a generation from transgressing into normal politics and a government for all.

  • Mick Fealty


    Just in case anyone thinks otherwise, it was not me who put those two things together. I’ve not even suggested that they withdraw from the Executive. They simpley don’t need to.

    If playing both ends off the middle was good enough for the DUP why not the SDLP (or the UUP for that matter).

    Sinn Fein have used every opportunity they can to make life tough for the SDLP, and fair play to them. That’s politics.

    But the de facto power structure at Stomont (ie where the real power to influence things) is in OFMdFM. You don’t have to relinquish your one Executive seat for the party to start knocking seven bells out of some of the poorer joint decisions being made.

    All parties are, like the rest of us, alone in this world, regardless of whom they team up with. The SDLP (and separately) the UUP need to start some kind of fight back or they are screwed

    I’d go further. They ought to do a serious policy review and look at the areas where they can not only damage the incumbents, but where they could make some running with the ministerial portfolio…

  • BluesJazz

    “But the de facto power structure at Stomont (ie where the real power to influence things)”

    Influence what things? It’s a talking shop.

    Of course I might be wrong and it has the power to stop FG Wilson making 1300 (plus more to come) redundant.

    And it might (in your view) have more *real* power than the National Government at Westminster to affect peoples lives here.


  • “knocking seven bells out of some of the poorer joint decisions being made”

    Sounds like a good idea – until you look at the actions of the SDLP and UUP ministers since 2007, including some of the recent ones. I tend to give the SDLP-APNI-UUP a bit more leeway but I’m fast running out of patience. It’s time they demonstrated a little more back-bone; push-over politicians can offer no protection to victims.

  • UserAinm

    Sinn Fein are vulnerable at the minute. I’ll only speak for my own area of North Belfast, we all know that the power grab by the dissident factions is becoming a disturbing reality. Sinn Fein have effectively lost the support of new voters in these areas, by that I mean new or relatively new voters. This is the real street fight come election time. The trouble for the SDLP is that this probably doesn’t translate into votes for them. The dissidents won’t field candidates so their supporters simply won’t vote. And the SDLP are seen as a big house up the Antrim Road party. While Alban has served his community well and Nicola Mallon seems to be plugging away there is a disconnect between the SDLP and an important portion of the active voting community in North Belfast. There are votes to be had but it’s hard to see how the SDLP would scoop them up.

  • BJ,

    Consider; Could the ability in N.I. to “do nothing” be a power with no downside, electorally?
    Gotta keep that applecart upright, said the tart with the cart.

  • BluesJazz

    Stormont has no economic levers. It’s a sandpit assembly . Essentially it exists to give the illusion of power. In 2015 Westminster will give it (a lot ) less money than it did before. And no amount of ‘lobbying’ will change this.
    This will not change the surface dynamics, but the undersurace dynamics will change dramatically, given our ‘public sector’ economy.

  • BluesJazz

    Mister Joe, to simplify, we will have a surface SF/DUP political gravy train (as at present). But a much agitated underflow. The middle class brain drain to the UK mainland -and beyond- will continue at a higher level.
    What’s left will struggle, with whom or what is debatable.

  • lamhdearg2

    “What’s left will struggle, with whom or what is debatable.”

    with each other, or to be more precise, the piggy (no pun) in the middle cops.

    The SDlp, Uup, Ap, should all be working together to form an opposition, the consitutional issue has been parked (for a time) there is very little in teams of left/right between (mainstream) partys the lenth and breath of western europe.
    otherwise (see bluejazz) the sdlp’s option is to wait untill the lack of cash, causes the muck to hit the fan, the prodlem with that is, in times of hardship and with a little prodding, and a little “1916/2016” unrising and somme, the electorate will retreat into their camps, the dup and sf will rule untill 2021 and beyond,
    Had the powers that be, not pushed Gerrys bro and Iris, into the spotlight before the last election, I believe the sdlp and uup would have been decimated, and therefore a marriage between the non gov partys more likely, as it is I see only their hopes (and egos) causing them to dream of phoenix rebirth, but have a long slow death.

  • lamhdearg2 (profile)
    If the SDLP, Alliance and UUP work together you will end up with a MAD situation. Mutually assured destruction.
    The SDLP need to grow a pair, fast. I’ve just given my opinion on this locally,
    Alliance need to broaden their appeal and eat into former UUP/ DUP votes, they’ve already shown what they can do given a strong candidate in East Belfast. The UUP, well, I honestly haven’t a clue what will save them anymore.

  • lamhdearg2

    So Bangor, balls will save the sdlp, wishfull thinking?,
    my above, dreaming maybe, but a way if some real balls where out there, to move this country forward, an alternative to the two tribes* politics we have had.

    * the two tribes, anti British, anti Irish.
    what we are missing is a party pro a common cause, I suggest pro Ulster.

  • lamhdearg2
    The holy grail you mean? of a non tribal political environment?
    I wish it were so but as long as everything is viewed, including on this site, as a zero sum game, it ain’t gonna happen.
    I’m a Leinster Man in a Rugby sense, but was delighted to see Ulster, my adopted province, beat Munster!
    Politically, Ulster is pretty much a big county council in the real world I’m afraid