In Profile: Ciarán Mulholland independent council candidate for Black Mountain

hen Ciarán Mulholland arrives at Sinnamon Coffee on Stranmillis, he is rushed, dressed in a tailored grey suit, and carrying a leather work binder. He has the firm handshake one expects from a lawyer or businessman. After apologising for running late, he steps away to the counter to order a latté. He’s not the kind of person you’d expect to be an anti-agreement republican.

Last week I received a private message on Twitter from a unionist politician who said that his party was still finalising its list of candidates for council elections. In the meantime, he said, check out Ciarán Mulholland, a human rights lawyer and an independent republican socialist from West Belfast running for city council. The two had worked together some years back and had become friends. Ciarán was recommended to me as a young, new voice in Belfast politics worth checking out.

Ciarán, 28, is the eldest of four children and grew up in the Carrigart area of Lenadoon Estate and later Andersonstown. His dad, an Irish speaker, sent Ciarán and his siblings to Bunscoil Phobal Feirste, and supported the family as a black taxi driver while his mum stayed home to care for them. Both parents returned to education later in life and remain a constant source of inspiration for Ciarán because of their strength, resilience, and ambition. Now engaged, Ciarán will be starting his own family soon.

Ciarán cares about the nitty-gritty issues affecting the most impoverished and deprived areas of Belfast. He’s angry that there are families that have to choose between eating or heating their home, and he sees Stormont and Belfast City Council as ineffectual at best.

He won’t promise his constituents the moon and the stars, as he likes to say, but he will fight for them on issues such as bringing in stricter regulations on payday loan companies and arranging for further support for workers’ cooperatives. He believes in the ideal of achieving a 32-county Irish republic, but he also believes that community relations can be improved in the city by getting politicians to focus on non-tribal social and economic issues, with the regulation of payday loan companies, which he sees exploiting the city’s most vulnerable, at the top of the agenda.

As he describes his vision for local politics, I ask him why he can’t accomplish that with an established party, like Sinn Féin or the SDLP.

Neither the SDLP or Sinn Féin are delivering for the people of West Belfast, he says. The people don’t want to see another political party with more members subject to a party whip. They want independent thinking. This is why Ciarán decided to throw his hat in the ring, like a lot of republicans across the North of Ireland, and run as an independent.

Growing up in West Belfast, Sinn Féin seemed to Ciarán to be the only party to have a presence on the ground and to be offering change and improvement for ordinary people. The party stood for the kind of politics he could identify with, and as a teenager, he became an active member.

“I wanted to be a part of something new, something fresh, something innovative, because things were changing in the country, the political landscape was changing, and so I wanted to be a part of something that could change the country for the better, for the ordinary people.”

But as he grew older, and to develop his own opinions, he started becoming concerned about certain party policies and approaches. When he began asking questions, he met resistance.

Ciarán was involved with Sinn Féin on the university campus while studying in Derry. At that time, Sinn Féin was discussing the proposals of endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and criminal justice system. He strongly disagreed with the party stance on policing, believing there were serious concerns that needed to be addressed before republican communities could sign up to any agreement. He was disturbed that Sinn Féin would endorse a police service where the majority of the recommendations in the Patten report would go unimplemented.

But the party’s position on the issue wasn’t, as he says, the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the active suppression of debate and dialogue within the party that made him resign.

“Any questions or queries that were raised within the party, you were quickly told to button up. To me that wasn’t the sort of party I wanted to be in. If you’re a member of a democratic party there should always be scope for debate and dialogue.”

“To me Sinn Féin is a party run like an army. And it’s something that to a certain degree frightened me. It was a party in which you were told what to do and which way to think. And to a lesser degree it was a form of indoctrination.”

“In any democratic party, there has to be debate and dialogue and a certain degree of transparency. There has to be a place, a platform where that can be availed, and can be facilitated. Yes, I accept that certain parties are strict, and have a strong party whip, however, when you have a party where it’s frowned upon, it’s actually a culture where it doesn’t happen, you don’t ask questions. I just couldn’t be part of that.”

Ciarán explains that despite the peace process he could see no evidence of social or economic improvements in the ordinary lives of the people of West Belfast. He points to studies from Barnardos and Oxfam that detail high levels of social deprivation and poverty in Belfast and across Northern Ireland. He saw a culture in which party members and ex-political prisoners were given jobs in the community sector, but if they spoke out against the party, they faced the fear of losing their livelihood. Ciarán says this an anti-democratic form of social and financial control. “I just thought, enough is enough. I can’t be part of this any longer. And so I left Sinn Féin.”

iarán works in the legal profession, having completed a degree in law with Irish language at Magee college in Derry City, and a Master’s in human rights and criminal rights at Queen’s University. In addition to his day job, he serves as director of Justice Watch Ireland, which was set up to give a voice to those who wrongly fall foul of the justice system, and is heavily involved in the Justice for the Craigavon Two campaign. The campaign claims that Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton have been wrongly imprisoned for the 2009 murder of constable Stephen Carroll.

I breach the subject of dissident republicanism with Ciarán, and when I do, I find myself saying words and phrases that I’ve heard on the radio, or in documentaries, but have never said out loud before. When I start talking I don’t know if I should try and sound more serious.

Ciarán handles my question with ease and confidence and is happy to discuss the notion of anti-agreement republicanism. Firstly, he tells me, he’s against the current armed campaign, as he fails to comprehend its logic. He doesn’t feel it will do anything to further the Irish republic. Ciarán wants peace, but more than the dysfunctional peace that’s on offer from the current political arrangements. He wants a peace based on truth, justice, accountability and transparency and political institutions with structured opposition.

“The Good Friday Agreement, and the agreements thereafter, facilitate further unionist concessions,” he says. Therefore, what is needed, is a democratic approach that encompasses the wishes of the entire island, which is why Ciarán would like to see a one Island, one vote referendum.

Many republicans, while anti-agreement, he explains, remain committed to achieving their goals peacefully through a democratic process, but get labeled as dissidents and smeared by the press and Sinn Féin when they voice their discontent.

KMxk9XCM.jpg-smallCiarán embraces the term dissident. In a piece written for The Pensive Quill, a republican blog edited by former IRA prisoner, Anthony McIntyre, he says, “A ‘Dissident’ is perceived by the majority of the people in Ireland as something negative, dark and dirty, and many generally have a mental picture of a warmongering Neanderthal dragging their knuckles along the ground with nothing to offer society.”

He points to the dictionary definition of dissident to reframe what it means to be an anti-Sinn Féin and anti-agreement republican. A dissident, he quotes, “is a person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.” Ciarán says he dissents from authoritarian politics, but that he is not a dissident in the way that the word is being used in current parlance.

“I’m a republican, and I’m a socialist republican. And a republican in the sense that I want a country that is free from a monarch. I want to see the unification of the country. I want the country based on 32-county republican socialist principles, where all the children of Ireland are cherished equally. And to decide their own destiny free from state interference.”

  • socaire

    All he needs now is for people to vote for him?

  • cynic2

    …or just blow up shops and bars murder people and organise anti-unionist pogroms

    ……after all it worked (for some) last time

  • cynic2

    PS do the rabbits on black mountain all havc electoral cards – that’s his best chance

  • Scáth Shéamais

    I’d wager he gets squeezed out by Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit and Pádraic Mac Coitir of Éirígí.

  • sean treacy

    Another McIntyre sidekick with a similar sense of self importance as his mentor.

  • Red Lion

    “”Therefore, what is needed, is a democratic approach that encompasses the wishes of the entire island, which is why Ciarán would like to see a one Island, one vote referendum.””

    Fantasy politics. More chance of a cow jumping over the moon. The GFA ain’t going anywhere and things are done on a Northern Ireland basis through the consent principle.

    What is needed is a democratic approach as endorsed by the Good Friday Agreement.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Another chap complaining about poverty and lack of opportunity, but apparently no original ideas whatsoever to deal with it except talking a lot of nonsense about reunifying Ireland. What’s the difference between Ciarán and Sinn Féin other than organizational tactics ?

  • Greenflag

    At least somebody is speaking out against the pay day loan merchants and the usurious rates of interest they charge anybody unfortunate enough to have anything to do with them .

    What are the views of the mainstream politicians in SF , DUP, UUP,SDLP, AP on these pay day loan companies ?

    We’ve seen how the banksters from the USA to the UK to Ireland have looted economies and wreaked havoc in countries across the world . The ‘pay day ‘ lender is more of the same albeit at a local community level.These places have sprung up as a result of increasing emisseration of the now downwardly mobile middle class and take advantage of those who are unable to manage whatever meager finances /incomes they have . They are the Pharisees not in the temple money changing whom the Christian God (Jesus ) expelled but in the High St predating on the desperate.

    What British social historians used to call the ‘community of the realm ‘ has been broken . And not just in Northern Ireland but throughout vast swathes of urban Britain and it’s regions and growing ‘underclasses’ and it’s in these areas that the pay day lender thrives .

    ‘Ciarán wants peace, but more than the dysfunctional peace that’s on offer from the current political arrangements. He wants a peace based on truth, justice, accountability and transparency and political institutions with structured opposition’

    Don’t we all ? The problem is that from a practical viewpoint it’s simply not achievable given the context of the current Northern Ireland state . That’s why there is a GFA and why it’s mandatory power sharing and why there is no official opposition :(.

    Now it may be possible that in a century or so Mr Mulholland’s idealistic notion may come to pass in a Northern Ireland State.

    There are those who would say that it might save a whole lot of wasted effort -time and energy to start again from scratch and consign the NI state in it’s current format to history as just another failed political experiment .

    In the meantime Mr Mulholland is participating in electoral politics and that’s a whole lot better than the alternative ?

  • cynic2

    As was said of others on the past – he was in a part of one – until they split

  • Caoimhín

    I know Ciarán from time spent with him at Irish College in the Donegal Gaeltacht. I have to say, even then, he was a guy who was impressive in his commitment and pride in his community. It must take a lot of gumption to actually have the courage of your convictions and make a stand for the people and principles you value.

    I don’t know how much headway he can make in Black Mountain. That being said, there aren’t many men I’d rather have representing me in BCC than him.

  • SDLP supporter

    Green Flag, not for the first time in your Slugger career, you’re spouting a lot of hot air without undertaking a reality check. Months ago SDLP Belfast City Councillor Clair Hanna tabled a comprehensive pay day loan motion with practical action points. The motion was supported by all parties and subsequently the DUP adopted the motion (with acknowledgement, to be fair) for at least one other Council.

  • Dixie Elliott

    “He saw a culture in which party members and ex-political prisoners were given jobs in the community sector, but if they spoke out against the party, they faced the fear of losing their livelihood…”

    I’ve often said that this was a masterstroke by the Brits. They have the Adamsite leadership by the balls by the use of funding, whereas they have to tow the line or lose the means of retaining ‘loyalty’.

    In turn the lesser Adamsites know to agree and keep the head down or else lose their livelihood (A Shinner) which is the only thing keeping them from the dole queue.

    An example of this is Leo Green who, despite having given long years of loyalty to the Adamsites, was shafted yet had to publicly state he was fine with that in that he had renewed his membership.

    Leo was clinging on to employment nothing more.

  • sean treacy

    That funding is also given to groups that you walk alongside in the rent a mob demos that do the rounds of the six counties on a weekly basis.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Caomhin’s and Greenflag’s comments are an interesting sample of how we do politics here – talk up the guy whose sole contribution to the issue is stand in front of a shop holding a sheet of A4 saying “payday loans are bad” as a lone principled crusader/bulwark against the capitalist hordes.

    Meanwhile, people who are actually legislating the issue (such as the SDLP; also Naomi Long has drawn attention to the issue recently) are ignored.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Is it sean treacy? I doubt it very much as theres an uproar in Derry after funding which is controlled by the Adamsite/ SDLP and Unionist cartels was refused to Foyle Search and Rescue and pumped into schemes/scams run by themselves.

    So I doubt if a well respected organisation like FSR gets knocked back the rent a mob you refer to would receive anything.

    After all they have to pay their own rent a mob to help prop up Northern Ireland for the Brits.

  • David Crookes

    Has the TUV finally generated its own reflection in the y-axis?

  • Greenflag

    @ SDLP supporter ,

    I asked a question see above as in – ‘What are the positions of the SDLP/etc on the issue. If it’s hot air to ask a question then maybe democracy is not for you or perhaps your party is developing the same arrogance towards the voters as the other main parties ?

    You answered in response citing Claire Hanna and Comrade Stalin mentioned Naomi Long’s input . I don’t recall the issue or Claire Hanna’s ‘practical action points ‘ ever being debated /discussed /mentioned on slugger .

    I’m not aware of how effective any legislation /motions / were in regulating the loan sharks . Perhaps you are ? But I’ll give credit (no pun ) to both Claire Hanna and Naomi Long for speaking out on the issue .

    Given that Chancellor Osborne has said not a word about Barclay’s 12,000 job losses in the UK while their top executives pocket higher bonuses in the millions- all from the banks reduced ‘profits ‘ ? then you can be sure pay day lender usurious gouging of the bottom of the market won’t be any kind of priority for the ‘haves ‘ in politics or in the City.

    As for Comrade Stalin’s accusation that I talked up the independent candidate I would say that I don’t like to see any independent much less Mr Mulholland being savaged by a bunch of political party hacks for daring to challenge their bailiwicks . Barton Creeth gave Mr Mulholland an opportunity to air his views which is what he did .

    Of course you might want to consider the positive spin off from Mr Mulholland’s exposure on slugger . At least Claire Hanna and Naomi Long got their efforts on this issue some more publicity which would not have been the case had Barton Creeth not done the interview nor posted the pay day loan pic .

    I’ll probably take an extra interest in the Black Mountain result when the election comes round .

  • Greenflag

    @ Comrade Stalin,

    There are no capitalist hordes .Just a few suits in a boardroom who decide to award themselves millions in extra bonuses while their ’employer’ the bank reduces it’s profits earnings and they (the suits ) throw 12,000 lesser employees onto the streets to help pay for their greed .

    As for talking up Mr Mulholland hardly – I could be accused of defending his view on the pay day loan shark issue against party hacks from the SDLP/AP/SF who of course may be worried about losing a council seat to an independent .

    ‘ people who are actually legislating the issue (such as the SDLP; also Naomi Long has drawn attention to the issue recently) are ignored.’

    Indeed and a fair point .But then they’d have still been ignored on slugger at least for their efforts had Mr Mulholland not stood outside a pay day loan centre with his A-4 sheet as you say and not been interviewed by Barton Creeth ?

    BTW was the legislation (if any ) in any way effective or just as productive as the SDLP canvassing votes on the doorsteps of Newtownards for a UI as Charles Gough stated on another thread ?

  • tacapall

    Fair play to Ciaran at least his heart is in the right place and however much I disagree with Irishmen dabbling in British politics his bona fides are impeccable unlike some of the other snake oil salesmen. Its nice to see all those political puntits aligned to parties with politicians at Westminster jumping on the “We give a fk about the poor too” bandwagon, funny enough we’ve yet to hear a word of outrage directed at their dear leader Mrs Windsor also head of their caring church who invested church money and who is the landlord and collect thousands per year of the biggest of these financial parasites “Wonga” who meanwhile charges up to 5853 % interest on loans to the poor.

  • Greenflag

    @ tacapall ,

    ‘however much I disagree with Irishmen dabbling in British politics’

    Why ? If the British dabble in Irish politics /North & South whats actually wrong with the reverse -In today’s world no nation is an island unto itself alone and that includes those nations who are not islands e.g Belgium, Scotland , Austria etc.

    And the pay day loan issue and the overarching bankster looting of democracies everywhere is not just a Belfast /NI/British /American /Irish issue . This financial sub culture has become endemic and the reasons as to why it has are not discussed by the main political parties .

    As to 5853 % ? I suspect you meant 585.3% . Even Shylock would have been happy with just an arm or leg .
    Flaying alive would have been the lawful punishment in the Middle Ages for usury above 5% . Perhaps some MP’s at Westminster or TD’s in the Dail or MLA’s at Stormont or Congressmen /Senators could pass motions or legislation to bring back the Middle Ages solution ! Could be a vote winner over much of middle America /UK/Ireland !

  • Greenflag

    Will the USA and EU support these ‘dissidents ‘ ?

    One must conclude that with British Chancellor Osborne and Barrosso threatening the Scots -did anybody mention Catalonia or the Basque country? – and with the Russians threatening the Ukrainians it would seem that the larger ‘nations ‘ within Europe still get their kicks from beating up on the smaller ones . We only have to wait now for the French and Germans to start beating up on the Greeks 🙁
    Oops hang on we’ve already been there , done that .

    I did’nt know the Ukrainians paly the bagpipes -on the other hand the brave chap could be a Scot or Irishman or a Galician doing a gig ?

  • son of sam

    Subject to correction ,I was under the impression that control of funding for projects in Derry(Social Investment Fund)was mainly at the discretion of Sinn Fein feeding into O F M/D F M.Are you suggesting that S D L P and the local Unionists are party to the “stitch-up”?

  • tacapall

    No Greenflag I didn’t mean 585.3% I meant 5,853 percent which is exactly as I said. Have any of our caring politicians questioned why the church of England invested in such a company or why Mrs Windsor continues to profit from a company that lives like a parasite off her less well off subjects. I can understand people getting involved in politics in a normal society but I cant fathom why Irishmen involve themselves in giving legitimacy to Mrs Windsor’s claim to ownership of this part of Ireland. If Irish men and women want to make a statement to Britain or if they want changes they simply have to disengage themselves from partaking in British elections, democracy can only work if there is a overall majority partaking.

  • Greenflag

    I like to know where numbers come from if I’m to have any faith in their credibility . Can you give the source for this 5,853 % ?

    ‘If Irish men and women want to make a statement to Britain or if they want changes they simply have to disengage themselves from partaking in British elections ‘

    They did and it did’nt work . Unionists just took full advantage while Irish nationalists and republicans stuck to their in some cases ‘guns ‘ and in most cases their ‘principles ‘

    Historically the simple fact of realpolitik is that British Administrations whether Monarchies or Parliaments never took Irish demands seriously until enough of the latter started speaking English and a majority did’nt speak English until after the Great Famine . The turbulent 19th century gave rise to Catholic Emancipation , Home Rule , disestablishment of the Anglican Church , Land league etc etc . None of these would ever have seen the light of day if

    a) the Irish leadership had continued to speak Irish and b) had refused to engage or participate in the British Parliament .

    It’s no different today like it or not . Both the UK and Ireland are part of the EU , the OECD , UN etc etc . There are some 6 million people in the UK of Irish descent first and second generation and more if you go back further .

    The GFA is as good as it gets and if and when it comes tumbling down then all sides can look again .In the meantime there is no appetite for any other solution that would carry a majority of the NI population .


  • Dixie Elliott

    son of sam here are the names of the funding cartel in Derry…

    Noel McCartney CRJ /SF – Chairperson

    Charles Lamberton Trax /SF

    Cllr Paul Fleming SF

    Marion Quinn SDLP

    Cllr Ann Donnelly SDLP

    Cllr Drew Thompson DUP

    Darren Kirby ONNP

    Alison Wallace Waterside NP

  • tacapall

    Greenflag why dont you just google “wonga charges up to 5,853 % interest” for yourself.

    “Unionists just took full advantage while Irish nationalists and republicans stuck to their in some cases ‘guns ‘ and in most cases their ‘principles”

    The British establishment took full advantage of the situation at that time are you suggesting every Irish citizen was fully entitled to exercise their right to vote during that period. Just when was the vote for the union and what percentage of the Irish population voted in that referendum. The Irish nation spectacularly made their wishes known in 1918 and Britain didn’t listen then so what makes you believe they will honour their commitment now or in the future when they have never done before, they never got the name perfedious albion for being honourable.

    The Great Famine surely you mean the great starvation, the potato wasn’t always the stable diet of Irish people, that was a change directed by the British and it wasn’t the only available source of nourishment in Ireland during that period, 1000’s of tonnes were being exported out of the country while millions starved yet you believe these same people who thought of the Irish people as useful monkeys give a toss about what they actually want.

    Like most people you throw a little mud, what do you mean exactly by the “there is no appetite for any other solution” do we just follow like sheeple like we’re programmed and elect the same snakeoil salesmen to bring a message to Britain that either she wont listen to or they’re being too well paid to change.

  • Dixie Elliott
  • Greenflag

    @ tacapall,

    Sorry for late reply . Normally I try to respond where it merits within 24 -48 hours .

    I was’nt suggesting that the forced Union in 1800 was a democratic decision . Nor was the failure of HMG to accept the 1918 mandate ‘democratic ‘.

    Perfidious Albion may have been and even unto today when It’s in her interest but you would have to be way off the scale to think that the UK today has’nt become a more democratic society since 1800 or 1918 etc . Empires behave as empires be they British , French , Russian or anything else .

    ‘what do you mean exactly by the “there is no appetite for any other solution” ‘

    Exactly what I wrote is what I meant .

    ‘do we just follow like sheeple like we’re programmed and elect the same snakeoil salesmen to bring a message to Britain that either she wont listen to or they’re being too well paid to change.’

    The vast majority of people across the communitarian divide prefer to be live sheeple than dead mutton . It’s not as if NI 2014 is North Korea or even the NI of 1920 or 1950 or even 1984 .

    As for being too well paid ? For what they actually achieve perhaps but in comparison to their counterparts across the border they don’t earn all that much .