Just a footnote on the flags exchanges from the Commons yesterday which suggests that the SDLP might have a flicker of independent life left in it when it appeals to old decencies. What we might call a creative split in the party occurred over the naming of the Patrick St playground in Newry after Raymond McCreesh which – my fault – I hadn’t noticed in local coverage before Mick’s pointed post. Irritatingly report after report simply lifted what reads like a local corr’s copy that:
Twenty nationalist councillors, including two independents, voted to uphold the decision to grant the application for the renaming. Five voted against (one DUP, three UUP and 1 UKIP), SDLP councillor Frank Feely abstained.
Nobody bothered to dig an inch deeper and give us the tally or party breakdown of the vote or tell us that there are on Newry and Mourne city council 14 Sinn Fein councillors, 9 SDLP councillors and two nationalist independents, as well as 5 assorted unionists. They did manage to record the sole SDLP abstainer the veteran figure of Frank Feeley, a member of the 1973 Assembly and the first mayor of the city, who received Newry’s royal charter from the Queen. It was a relief to see Alex Attwood’s stance which was in character and does him credit . And so to the Commons where the last leader but one bluntly rejected the Newry party’s line in the UK’s main forum.
Mark Durkan Does the Secretary of State recognise that in circumstances where Northern Ireland will be moving towards having 11 new councils under a carve-up determined by Sinn Fein and the DUP, there is a danger that the whole issue of flags being determined at council level will be played out in those new council chambers in a very difficult and dangerous way? Does she further recognise that there needs to be real dialogue among all parties about how we handle and manage that situation, in relation not only to flags but to the sensitive issue of the naming of public amenities run by councils, including play spaces, which in my view should be neutral and apolitical?
It’s bound to be a concern that those who are ploughing a distinct furrow on the issue are veterans of the SDLP’s ascendancy. Any sign of a Newry rethink?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London