In praise of… Jim Allister

“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

The controversy over Jim Allister’s SpAd Bill has thrown a different light upon a settlement that has brought us all certain indisputable benefits. Ironically, the post GFA institutions have had one of their first real fillips from the only resolutely anti Agreement unionist left in the chamber.

Such a bill could have emerged from any of the Executive parties. But as we’ve seen with the recently scrambled launch of the Towards a United Community strategy both parties in OFMdFM tend to expect their cabinet colleagues merely to fall in with their own overall plans rather than make an active contribution.

Mr Allister has enhanced his reputation with his own base for putting it up to SF. He has done himself no harm in liberal land either for underwriting a set of post conflict values and in doing so passing a double test of political base approval along with wider cross community authority.

That’s no mean achievement for one MLA and a tiny hard working back room staff. Nor for a man we were once told was a pure oppositionist from whom no good would ever emerge.

Some larger parties (with far more resources) should take note of Mr Allister’s focus, work rate and capacity to choose the right fight.

Allister’s importance does not lie in his unionist credentials. You can fall towards or away from those longer term objectives and still understand the importance of what he has achieved here.

It lies in his muscular reminder that democracy thrives on challenge, not meek deference to the inevitable procession of history.

People in Northern Ireland need more politicians like Jim Allister: trouble makers in the right place, ie in Stormont rather than on the streets.

One man on the fringes of one community doing the right thing is not enough. But he’s proven that at the right time and over the right issue, it can be done. And it is, at least, a start.

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  • If you want a Brave New World quotation to describe the curious parallel existence that is NI politics, I have this for you:

    The clap on the shoulder made him start, look up. It was that brute Henry Foster. “What you need is a gramme of soma.”
    “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects… Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology.”

    And I do like those three final paragraphs.

  • keano10

    Come on Mick. You are having a laugh here surely? Allister’s old-fashioned sectarianism shines through with virtually every utterance that he still makes at Flag Protests etc…

    Are you seriously asking us to ignore the politics of a politician?? His brand of Unionism is irrelevant to the fact that he “takes on” Sinn Fein in the Assembly? By that token, we should heap praise on many other extremist political “grafters”. Nick Griffin of the BNP is a well-known grafter. Tommy Robinson of The EDL is grafting his ass off at the moment while “putting it up” to The Tory-led Government. The fact that both are out and out bigots is irrelevant then is it?

    You cannot produce a thread attempting to praise Allister while proclaiming that his politics should be ignored when evaluating him. There are many SF/DUP/SDLP/UUP/Alliance MLA’s who work equally as hard as Allister does.

    Ultimately, of course the proof is in electoral success. Allister got trounced by Paisley Junior in North Antrim and he only scraped home when securing an MLA seat in a constituency in which he should have cruised home.

    The public can see through bluster a lot more readily than you might think.

  • redhugh78

    Congratulations Mick,

    nailing your political colors firmly to the mast in that piece.

  • Dec

    ‘People in Northern Ireland need more politicians like Jim Allister: trouble makers in the right place, ie in Stormont rather than on the streets.’

    Sure thing.

    ‘Mr Allister has enhanced his reputation with his own base for putting it up to SF. He has done himself no harm in liberal land either for underwriting a set of post conflict values ‘

    Maybe in your liberal la-la land, Mick. The rest of us see him for the massive hypocrite he is.

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk

    Mick

    I don’t have a particular problem with reasonable restrictions on special advisors. However, you seem to be able to see Aliister’s strengths while magnificently avoiding his weaknesses.

    I have great sympathy for Ann Travers although I have the same sympathy for the other victims relatives who don’t seem to interest the media so much.

    One thing hasn’t changed about Allister – he’s always had plenty to say about the victims of Republican violence and sympathy for their families. Oddly enough, the same certainly isn’t ‘t true about victims of “Loyalist” terrorists or their families.

    He’s undoubtedly an extremely clever man but spare us the portrayal of some “statesman” who is trying to bring good govt to the North. I come from a moderate Catholic/Nationalist family – we’re not stupid Mick. We’ve had 30 years of listening to Allister and his views. He has never been trusted in our community and he never will be.

    As someone else pointed out on another thread, Had Mary Travers been murdered by “Loyalist ” terrorists, they didn’t think Allister would have had as much to say. I agree and I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of the Catholic community would agree also.

  • GavBelfast

    I certainly wouldn’t eulogise about him – he doesn’t come across as likeable, though one can admire aspects all the same.

    “Trouble-maker in the right place” seems rather apt.

    In my opinion, he DOES deserve credit on this particular issue.

    As for media interest in Ms Travers, well it’s not her fault she is persistent, articulate and evocative.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Gav, I was waiting for someone to ‘hold my coat’… In other words, whatever else he’s done, demonstrating a capacity to disrupt is the most beneficial thing here.

    I am not a fan of embedded privilege (as some will note from another very different thread: http://goo.gl/SDszL)… Democratic systems only work if/when they are stressed.

    That’s what I’m endorsing here, not Jim’s politics…

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk

    Gav

    I’m not criticising Ann Travers. I’m criticising the media. I was abhorred by the murders of Mary Travers and Robert McCartney. However, compare the amount of media coverage their families got compared to the victims of “Loyalist” terrorists.

    I’m saying plainly that it suits the “impartial” media to focus on certain victims because it suits their agenda.

    The same is true in my opinion of certain “Loyalist” politicians. I well remember Allister when he was in the DUP. Plenty to say when some poor victim was murdered by the IRA/INLA but strangely silent when the UVF/UDA murdered innocent Catholics.

    As I said, I don’t have an issue with the SPAD bill but I do agree with the other commenter about Allister. I think it would have been a different story if the perpetrator had been a “Loyalist” terrorist.

    I can fully understand unionist contributors here who have issues with some SF politicians due to the past 30 years. Take it from me, Allister has the same trouble in my community. He is wasting his time. As far as I’m concerned – he is one of those Unionists who yearns for the “good old days” of Unionist misrule pre 1969..

    I have never trusted him and I never will. I can assure you that I am in a massive majority in my community on that issue.

  • Mick Fealty

    Malc,

    Far better selection, but it is 25 year since I read the novel and I’ve read 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale since, so the end quote’s escaped me. But my main point in using it is that forgetfulness or inattention to detail is not good for democratic health…

    Monk,

    IIRC the most senior loyalist attached politician is John Kyle. The rest, I am sure you are right about.

  • GavBelfast

    When there are (or would have been) loyalist versions of Mary Travers’ murderer appointed as so-called “SpAds”, then we can (could have) put Jim Allister to the test on same.

    Until then, we can judge him on fighting a Catholic murder-victim’s corner, and the rest is just speculation.

  • Newman

    I’m with Mick on this. I do not agree with Allister’s politics…but he has touched a nerve on this issue which Seamus Mallon rightly and effectively highlighted.People do not accept that the IRA campaign was ever justified even if it could be explained. The fact that we accept elected politicians with a past does not mean that we are required to buy into Sinn Fein’s version of the conflict or their insistence that high paid advisory jobs can be given to those who were guilty of truly serious offences.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    All very well, Gav but no one with an ounce of wit would credibly argue that Jim Allister would have brought forward this legislation had Mary Travers been murdered by the UVF in one of their ‘any taig will do’ sprees and one of the killers had gone on to be a Stormont special advisor,

  • Skinner

    Tochais

    I don’t think you can seperate it like that – the reality is that the focus of Allister’s ire is Sinn Fein because they are only party in the position he opposes: unelected terrorists in SPAD roles.

    Allister is also against unrepentant terrorist-linked groups in government. If you gave him the option of excluding both Sinn Fein and John Kyle or excluding neither of them, I would fully expect him to exclude both. Does that answer your question?

  • John Ó Néill

    “… for putting it up to SF”

    Was that an intentional lift of the bonnet on this, or just a subconscious one? Since this was about all victims etc…

    I’ve written about the immaturity of public debate on here before and I do intend to come back to this as soon as I get time – but I think you might have accidentally acknowledged the reality of what is going on with the #SpAdBill which isn’t the same as the public claims.

  • Skinner

    Again John, you can’t separate the party from the action. Sinn Fein were the party that tried to do something distasteful, therefore they were the party that was attacked for it.

  • sonofstrongbow

    It is I suppose unsurprising that some nationalists in their commentary can’t avoid playing the man whilst ignoring the principle of what he has achieved.

    Allister went into bat for a victim drawn from the nationalist community and received support, albeit muted, from politicians from that community also.

    The best that the naysayers can come up with is a hypothetical ‘he wouldn’t have tabled the bill if a Prod had been the Spad in question’. ( I always find it amusing when blatantly sectarian man playing is employed to attack sectarianism)

    Of course the sectarian serve can be returned. Those complaining about Allister’s bill would have had a different response should the Spad have been a Shankill Butcher working for the DUP.

    Allister has managed to address an emotive issue that has touched the cross-community feeling; and in the vexed area of victims and the past to boot.

    Of all those other ‘talented and hardworking’ MLAs referenced by others on this thread how many have achieved the same?

  • Reader

    John Ó Néill: I’ve written about the immaturity of public debate on here before and I do intend to come back to this as soon as I get time…
    Should Mick have used the term “Putting manners on…” instead – would that have been more mature and serious terminology?

  • Mick Fealty

    JOhn,

    It was an attempt at being truthful in the broadest range of this affair. You cannot dissociate the politician from the need to act in a politically viable way. We need politicians to take each other to task and have the arguments that arise tested in public debate.

    Otherwise, we get to that famous Loadsamoney quip from the 80s, “I ‘ate politics. Well, it’s far too political, innit?”

  • John Ó Néill

    I just wondered if it was a conscious decision to describe it that way since the public line that is being talked about is about ‘victims’ and trying to present the Bill as being for all victims. The bulk of those lining up behind the bill have been rather less than equivocal in supporting those who would be ‘victims’ of state actions, or those of proxies operated by the state and very dismissive of their claims to being considered as victims. So, lustration isn’t exactly an equitable concept in the north and this legislation will reinforce that and that is the intention of many of those promoting it. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Ann Travers and others in her position, but I doubt she would be afforded this platform if her sister had been shot by a special branch agent operating in the UDA.

  • sectarianheadcount

    I’m sure Big Jim’s ‘post-conflict values’, to quote you, will lead to him forensically scrutinising the release of Marian Price and asking Ms Villiers why Ms Price was held without charge for two years and was apparently a threat last week, but not this week.

  • “It lies in his muscular reminder that democracy thrives on challenge, not meek deference to the inevitable procession of history.”

    Sinn Féin arrogance created an open goal for Jim Allister; it’s been a mess of their own making.

    IIRC Ann Travers said back in the day that a compassionate approach by SF could have made a big difference ie advance notice of its intentions.

    My understanding of Ann’s recent comments is that she sent Jim a message of thanks for speaking out on her behalf and that he subsequently sent a reply that perhaps a legal remedy could be devised that would prevent a repetition of such an appointment.

  • DPM84

    A lot of “whatifery” and playing the man not the ball going on here. There should be a debate on this issue, there are extraordinary circumstances to deal with here, that’s how the law works. I am glad Ann Travers is being listened to and I’m sure she is too. Quite a provocative post, Mick good on you to raise some valid points for discussion

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick:

    Mr Allister has enhanced his reputation with his own base for putting it up to SF. He has done himself no harm in liberal land either for underwriting a set of post conflict values and in doing so passing a double test of political base approval along with wider cross community authority.

    dearie me. You have been away from home a long time haven’t you ?

    Listen to Allister’s spittle-flecked rants in the Assembly about abortion and gay marriage, or indeed about “bomber Kelly”, terrorists in government and all the rest, and then tell me that this man carries any kind of credibility in “liberal land”.

    You said in the other thread that this is about the legislation and not the man. Now you seem to be suggesting that the man is to be judged in light of his contribution to legislation. That makes no sense at all. Allister is not concerned about victims, peace, building consensus or improving the way we are governed. He is a wrecker, the people who vote for him know that, and the people who don’t vote for him also know that. This is a vehicle for sticking it up not only to Sinn Féin, but to the DUP for whom Allister hoped that this bill would make life very awkward.

    Sinn Féin may or may not be justified in their view that they are entitled to appoint people like Mary McArdle to whatever job they want. I think they are entitled to the view that this is a law specifically drafted to target them and nobody else. It is a mere happy accident that physical-force unionism doesn’t aspire to political office or participation in government, one which helps unionism to sustain its one-sided narrative of the conflict. The argument that Allister uses, which is that the text of the bill passes equality legislation and is completely fair, is no different from that used to justify the old Stormont regime which discriminated in practice but not by statute.

  • As noted on the other thread, CS, how come Ms Travers ‘resorted’ to Mr Allister instead on of the other parties, for example, such as of the Alliance Party?

  • Comrade Stalin

    How do you know she “resorted” ?

  • Gopher

    Don’t like the man or his politics but he has produced the finest hour of the assembly so far. Politics has actually worked at Stormont. This should be celebrated. Next time given the right bill we could be praising SF. As good as opening post as I’ve read on Slugger btw.

    (Honourable mention to Seamus Mallon for coming off the bench and reminding people the importance of proper politics).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Politics has actually worked at Stormont. This should be celebrated.

    No, here’s what happened.

    Ann Travers was told about the McArdle appointment. She didn’t read about it in the papers or see it on a website somewhere as SpAD appointments are not made public. No, someone working within Stormont – nobody knows who but people might speculate – acted to draw it to her attention.

    In steps Jim with his bill. Jim ain’t stupid and like most of the rest of us probably anticipated that the bill would fall due to the SDLP signing the Petition of Concern.

    The small quorum of SDLP MLAs entrusted to handle the bill, led by Dominic Bradley indicated their plans to vote for the PoC, as per their political instincts.

    The shock development came when a number of SDLP figures, most significantly Seamus Mallon, together with Ann Travers herself intervened and made it politically impossible for the SDLP to vote for the PoC despite their failed attempts to amend the bill.

    Therefore as it stands, the bill will pass.

    This isn’t politics working, it’s a circus.

    (Honourable mention to Seamus Mallon for coming off the bench and reminding people the importance of proper politics).

    What’s the matter with you ? Proper politics is jobs, housing, employment, economics, education, healthcare. This is Jim Allister’s anti-agreement posturing – how on earth could you call this in any way normal or proper ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Nice narrative CS (complete with gaps and leaps) but it has nothing to do with the narrow terms in which I’ve praised Jim Allister.

    The Huxley quote was intended to focus on the behind doors dealing that passes for politics in Stormont. More air is required at the very least to work out if the Minister for Finance and Personnel’s figures stack up against the Treasury’s.

    Or that when a Minister fires four NEDs that it’s not some insider manoeuvre for motive or motives still as yet unknown.

  • Zig70

    2 quick points.
    I can’t get past elected terrorist good, appointed terrorist bad.
    Is a political troublemaker good for politics or journalism? Are we getting confused about what is good for society or food for slugger. Still a rogue spad to give us some legal complexities.

  • Mick Fealty

    “Are we getting confused about what is good for society or food for slugger.”

    – Nice line…

    If I learned anything from the NI Water debacle it is the lack of public ‘presence’ on any given issue makes it easy for people to drift way off mission. http://goo.gl/RKAZG

    And I think we DO have a problem with a genuine lack of public presence at Stormont…

  • ayeYerMa

    Dec, what on earth is hypocritical about attending a pan-Unionist event where ex-terrorists may be present and attending the Assembly where ex-terrorists are present?

    Those he has been opposing are those terrorists who are in POWER, and the only terrorists in POWER (with the ability to actually rub the salt into the wounds of victims, and the only ones capable of implementing policy to retrospectively endorse the perpetrators, such as at the Maze) are convicted Republican terrorists.

  • Dec

    ‘Dec, what on earth is hypocritical about attending a pan-Unionist event where ex-terrorists may be present and attending the Assembly where ex-terrorists are present’

    Well, presumably by ‘ex-terrorists are present’, you mean ‘seated beside a sectarian double-murderer’ and nodding sagely in agreement, on innumerable unionist roadshows. And if you don’t think that it is hypocritical for Jim Allister to attend these events, and at the same time producing articles on his website such as ‘SDLP must decide if on side of victims or victim makers’ or ‘Allister Signs up to Charter for Innocent Victims’ then we clearly possess different dictionaries.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    We are obviously talking across purposes. You said that this issue would help Jim personally to go down well with liberals. I pointed out why not. Context is everything.

  • BarneyT

    Listen folks, I don’t think Mick can be described as a JMcA advocate. The point is relevant i.e. someone is exercising themselves in an otherwise cosy oppositionless executive, and I suspect he sees that has somewhat refreshing. That is not the same has nailing his colours to any particular mast.

    Now, JMcA is targetting SF here, lets not be confused about that.

  • Mick,

    I seriously doubt that Allister has any real interest in what liberals think of him. Liberals have Alliance–one seat in Westminster, which will probably soon go away and a handful or two in the Assembly. He is trying to be the conscience of unionism, by representing the unreconstructed Paisleyites. He will probably end up like Robert McCartney–the pol, not the victim.

    But I think he has done a very good job of exposing what SF really means when it talks about reconciling unionists and making them comfortable with a united Ireland. If SF cannot even demonstrate some restraint towards Catholic victims how will it deal with Protestants?