Are political commentators part of the problem?

You go out put your name on the ballot, get elected and then you are faced with constant critcism from people who in most cases have never done the same thing themselves. This is something that this blog is guilty of too, aside  from a few of us, none of us have had the cajones to put our necks on the line, yet we readily criticise those who do.

One criticism I regularly hear about our circle of political commentators is that they are regularly negative and are actually part of the problem in Northern Ireland politics. Last week for example on The View, Alex Kane called Stormont MLAs “Wackos” which many of our current crop of politicians  took real exception to. Now, this issue is not just limited to Alex, but I want to pose the question to the Sluggerverse; are political commentators part of the problem in eroding confidence in our politicians, or are our political leaders just too thin skinned and deserve criticism of the decisions they make?

Answers on a postcard please…..

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  • Commentating such as on the Nolan Show is entertainment, cheap radio/television, and no more listened to than any of the politicians. All part of the circus show.

  • Jurassic Parke

    Like all journalists (most commentators are journos, or at least inhabit that world), the story is where there is scandal or negativity.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    A main problem relating to political commentating on a forum such as Slugger is all Unionists bloggers have vastly reduced their posts and some have even left the site. One of the main Unionist commentators on here even expressed frustration at how negative with a veneer of sectarianism most responses were to his blogs on anything Unionist or Protestant.

    I have also noticed that Unionist posters on here such as myself have either left or greatly reduced their contributions. Many responses we have received have been negative, sectarian and quite condescending with many using the LAD FB page as their source of knowledge a site which has itself reduced to farce with its main aim of stalking Jamie Bryson’s FB page.

    What is also amazing is how enlightened and tolerant many on a site such as this think they are while displaying actions and sentiments completely to the contrary. I’m also not a clairvoyant but my post will receive at most one like while some nasty little Nationalist response to it will be at least double figures.

  • Morpheus

    I think you overestimate the influence of political commentators David – I don’t think too many would admit to being influenced one way or the other by one – so you are off the hook. 🙂

  • Guest

    Bad news sells papers. 😉

  • Andrew Gallagher

    Bad news sells papers. ;-p

  • mickfealty

    I like the simple directness of the question. And I’d like to make it clear that I think that the definition of commentators can been seen as both wide and narrow.

    My own brief thoughts:

    1, there’s a general obsession with who’s up and who’s down that means very few commenters have much of an idea of how the parties are actually performing inside the machine. Those that do tend to be specialists in education, business or the Environment who keep their distances from the world of Pol Corr-ing.

    2, we underestimate the degree to which politicians navigate their politics by the light of external commentary. Although I stand over it in detail and in spirit one of the things I got back in respect of our coverage of Northern Ireland Water than it had made a generally risk averse staff group inside the Civil Service even more risk averse.

    3, contrary to broad consensus I don’t think the following of stories requires absolute balance. To me a lightly arrived at consensus is usually an indication of some form of subtle strong arming behind the scenes. Instead of balance, proportion and conditionality is a far more useful quality, something which it is often completely missing in our general commentary.

    4, having said all of which, we do suffer from a media which struggles to find new voices. 15 years after the coming to power of Sinn Fein and the DUP it is hard to find urbane natural (non party) champions of each. Liberal middle of the roaders are still predominant, and tend towards a more cynical view of their motives and actions.

  • Granni Trixie

    All commentators are not the same (thank goodness). AK for example comes across as priding himself on a grumpy old man image and pronouncements.
    However, some others judge the situation on on the basis of what is actually going on at particular times (Liam Clarke comes to mind as such a critical friend).
    Presently the public are frustrated at lack of power to put right matters which seem to be exaserbated by the incompetance and or politcial will to get round problems. One example of this was DUP not keeping to an agreement to have a SF Speaker….so in the midst of numbers of problems they created another. So I wouldnt thank commentators for putting a positive spin on something which is so not in the interests of NI.
    As to the extent of influence which commentators weild I would say they are but one of many influences including that of Slugger. Who really can say?

  • mickfealty

    That’s part of the false consensus point I was trying to get above there Joe.

  • streetlegal

    I don’t have a problem with the commentators, apart from the fact that there is a select, little in-crowd – the likes of Kane, Emerson, Heenan – who seem to be paid some kind of retainer by the BBC so that they can appear on our screens to give us the benefit of their wisdom at a moments notice.

    There is a bigger problem with the quality of news journalism at both BBC N Ireland and UTV. I think it is time that these ‘old hands’ were shown the door. These regulars – Devenport, Rowan – even Nolan – have developed too close and cosy a relationship with the political parties – with the result that the content of their reports are largely spoonfed from the press offices of these parties.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    It might be a “false consensus” Mick, however there is no doubt that the NI cyber world is predominantly Nationalist and Republican. Even if the cyberer (is that a word??) is not pure Republican in fact some point out to having a Unionist or indeed Protestant partners, many put forward very forceful and bordering on offensive posts that are intended to lampoon or condescend Unionism and Protestantism.

    A simple example would be that of the petrol bombing of an Orange Hall. Posts start out with muffled condemnation from commentators, quickly moving on to non-existent links between the Orange and the KK to how Unionism is controlled by the Orange bloc, isolated examples or Orange misdemeanors, to unsubstantiated examples of Orange wrong doings on the individual posting. The narrative so runs that the only logical conclusion is that the petrol bomb was perhaps not the best option but it was justified although I’m glad it was thrown by somebody else. There are of course many who choose to believe the attacks were self-inflicted to make the Republican movement look bad. This unfortunately is the state of online blogging here in NI.

    I know I keep harking back to LAD and yes I recognise that many of the nasty posts don’t get very many likes anymore, however there is still a hard core element who choose to follow this tripe and even places such as Slugger give it the oxygen of publicity by having posts from its authors.

  • Morpheus
  • Joe_Hoggs

    That’s a decent example and quoted below is a typical Nationalist repsonse to an attack on an Orange hall and the fears it creates.

    “Blah, blah, blah…..


  • Sir Rantsalot

    Many political commentators are stuck in a mindset of talking about sectarian angles to current events, or unionist / nationalist us and them stuff. Its as if they do not know how to write an article without framing everything in 20th century tribal nonsense. The local newspaper writers and web sites like slugger are way way behind the times. They all seem to be stuck in the 1980s !

  • Robin Keogh

    Bias and prejudicial leaning seem to be par for the course for most commentators these days. Rarely do I stumble upon a commentator that can kick start my thought process in a new or enlightening direction. Most journalists seem to be shackled by restrictions set by editorial lines, moreover many publications will not even publish letters from the general public that disagree with their columnists views. The matter is made worse by the fact that many articles are deliberately misleading and intended to obstruct the reader from forming a reliable considered opnion. This is very damaging and compounds the problem of conflict in many areas. Personally, over the years I have had to depend on the writings of people like Ruth Dud and Paul Bew to get a greater understanding of the PUL in Ireland. Many in the media present Unionism as a nasty abhorrence and although I agree that political Unionism is outdated, sometimes sectarian and oft times anti Irish, I do not believe that these are problems indemnic within the broader Unionist family. If you want to see how politicians can be treated with abject disdain and disrespect, all you have to do is watch Vincent Browne on TV3 any night of the week. He literally Kicks them around his studio. My own view is that the media in Ireland are far too influencial and have far too much power, i do not approve of censorship in any form but their should be much tighter guidelines around reporting information and very heavy penalties for transgressors.

  • Morpheus

    That comment was directed at the outlandish statement:
    “The ethnic cleansing of Protestants continues unabated within the Republic of Ireland.”

    …and was hardly typical Joe.

    What about this from an elected SF rep in the same thread:
    “Disgraceful attack on the Orange Order which is a important part of Irish and British history”

    “These attacks are wrong.”

    “It’s pretty pathetic really. A bunch of knuckle draggers attacking property in the middle of nowhere for no good reason. These thugs are disgusting”

    All from the same thread.

    There are idiots who put up unfair comments Joe but hardly worth branding their comments as representative of an entire comment

  • carl marks

    As regards to slugger and the postings I take exception to the charges laid at the door of many nationalist posters, certainly there are sectarian nationalists only a fool would deny that, but the charge is made when the wilder claims or indeed the blatantly sectarian remarks of unionists are challenged.

    Somehow pointing out the obvious links between the OO and loyalist terror groups is demonising the OO; it is seemingly acceptable to attack the GAA, the Irish language, and to claim that anybody opposed to OO parades is a Shinner.

    I think a major part of the problem here is that many Protestants/ unionists are quite frankly embarrassed by the actions of those who claim to represent them. And many of the posters on slugger most certainly do not represent a very large number of protestants but these same posters claim that an attack on say the Twaddell protest is an attack on all protestants, or opposition to a OO parades is an attempt to curtail protestant culture this is simply not true no more than having a go at SF is an attack on all Catholics/nationalists.

    To be called a backward bigot simply because you dare to disagree with something said by another poster displays the level to which many unionists have descended to.

    Many arguments put forward by the “representative’s “of unionism soon degenerate into whataboutry or mopery.

    There are of course exceptions to this rule, Both AG and AlanofNards spring to mind they manage to present thoughtful and reasoned arguments and while I believe they represent the thinking of many protestants/unionists their voices are drowned out by the “not an inch squad.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    I think people have a absolute right to criticise or praise Journalist’s / Politicians / commentators- there is nothing special about politicians just as there is nothing special about Journalist’s- the same for each and every walk of life- but I do see a problem- Some Journalists do not like / hate writers on the web-for example – two commentators wrote two articles against other people on the web in today’s Irish news-I think Journalists like to give their own opinions about certain story’s and give their own smart comments / jokes- but hell rub it up anyone else who comes out with a wiseCrack- the day is over when we read a article and that’s it- now most articles / reports are debated around the Web- and I think it is a more healthy environment -if you write / type and can take a argument all well and good- if some one Questions you and you huff you might has well kick the lap- top / typeWriter up the road-

  • Sergiogiorgio

    If you took the political commentators out of the equation there would still be a bunch of wacko’s up on the hill. Their wackiness doesn’t need the commentators to point it out….it’s bloody obvious to any punter who takes a political interest in NI.

  • mickfealty

    Best response to Vincent I’ve ever heard was from Alex Maskey who once threatened to leave the show and go and iron his shirt for the morning instead (it was on his RTE radio gig)…

    My grump is the lack of access journalists have to hard information that would allow them to come to a more objective analysis of how politicians are performing in their roles as public reps.

    In NI that’s an even bigger problem than it is almost anywhere else on these islands because everyone’s in government and has ashared interest in keeping the press in the dark.

    Poorly biased input to the press means p!ssy (and p!ssed off) output in return.

  • mickfealty

    I thought I had outlawed the use of the word bigot for the very specific reason that it usually indicates a racial type attack on Protestants. How’d you get that comment through CS?

  • Robin Keogh

    I accept all that mick, its a bit like an irremovable force meeting an irremovable force but the problem is this whole concept of openness and transparency. What i mean is this, governments are elected by the people but media elites are not. I dont just say this as a shinner. I remember years ago when i was cabin crew with aer lingus, a journalist berated a fianna fail member on a flight because the taoseach of the day had refused his paper permission to cover his daughters wedding. Some Journalists through their toys outt of the pram if they dont get the info they want when they want it. And they take revenge through their pages unchallenged. The situation is getting worse in that the public lose out on information because politicians are terrified the info they give will be misconstrued, misrepresented or blatantly exagerated. In my view elements of the media are doing more to damage the domocratic process than our politiciabs could ever do.

  • carl marks

    It was Joe Hoggs who used it here it is,

    “You know something folks, Unionist have left Slugger so you can thrash it out amongst yourselves you backward bunch of bigots.”

    on the O’Dowd thread i merely referred to it, its still on the thread check it out!

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    On that thread, before Dan derailed it, here is the breakdown of people who condemned the act vs those who didn’t:

    CONDMENED THE ATTACK(or spoke lowly of such a thing):

    Michael Henry

    Brian Magee

    Carl Marks

    Comrade Stalin

    Erne Kid

    DID NOT CONDEMN THE ATTACK (or seem bothered)

    Nevin (but we all know Nevin abhors such acts)


    Gunterprien (no surprise there)

    Reader (but again, from his past form we know he is against such attacks and he was responding to Gunter)

    So Joe, that makes 5 against vs 2.

    Furthermore, most of those condemning the attack were either nationalists or of a nationalist background. And they were NOT muffled, in general they were plain and clear.

    YOU chose to focus on the minority voice.

    YOU are seeing what you want to see.

    Sergio’s response was NOT “a typical Nationalist response”. The figures above show it was the minority response.

    It is frustrating to see the OO being tarred with the same brush as some of the more aggressive elements of the band scene.

    By a similar token it is wrong to tar all nationalists and republicans with the same brush as those who would not condemn an out-and-out sectarian attack.

    The OO-KKK routine is just a spoon fed argument that some people put up as a reflex. It is without thought nor merit.

    You should just roll your eyes when you read it and count down the minutes till the deployer of said argument mentions the potato famine or Cromwell or such like.

    In NI each side is spoon fed responses that they squawk in a parrot like fashion to get their ‘point’ across/ignore the accusation.


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    This is an interesting point.

    I think someday we should write a list of common criticisms of unionism, the OO etc and discuss if they are vitriolic or harsh.

    For example, sometimes I make suggestions (not to similar to suggestions of yours) regarding the OO and the band scene and people like Willie Wombat bulldoze in accusing moi of sectarianism and ‘bile’. Maybe even ‘vile bile’ if he’s really annoyed.

    So if an ex-bandsman and aficionado of the late 90’s band scene who wishes for a respectable marching culture is ‘full of vile bile against Protestants’ then what chance of a fair hearing does an aggrieved nationalist/Catholic/middle of the road person have?

    What is the border between constructive criticism, acceptable criticism, stoopidly-worded-and-insensitive-but-may-have-a-point-criticism, downright narrow minded criticism and just ordinary ‘criticism’?

    How may one speak ill of modern political (and sometimes cultural) unionism without being rounded on or accused of being sectarian?

    And yes, you’re right that there maybe a case of not seeing the wood for the trees by those who think they’re not sectarian but let the mask slip when on a rant against the OO.

  • mickfealty

    Aright, that’s enough. Points have been made, now back to the subject please?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    A number of those “condemning” the attack have in other posts have been venomous in their attacks of Orangeism. In fact Carl Marks claims that what the Orange did to him was too unspeakable to ever mention, yet he mentions it all the time without providing substance as to what it is or evidence that it happened. One cannot pour absolute hatred on an organisation yet step back and condemn while it’s physically attacked as the physical was a result of the mind and the verbal. If people are so ill informed that they seriously think there are links between the OO and the KKK, that the OO is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity and it is a nasty sectarian organisation then (a) it’s no surprise this results in physical attacks and (b) such contributors are exposing something dark about their own psyche.

  • carl marks

    . In fact Carl Marks claims that what the Orange did to him was too unspeakable to ever mention, yet he mentions it all the time without providing substance as to what it is or evidence that it happened

    And when did i do this Joe, cause i cant remember it!

  • mickfealty

    See, that should not be happening.

  • Croiteir

    Next time I say that I do not vote in elections I do not hope anyone castigates me for it, for who is the wackiest/wackier? Those who vote for wacko’s or the wacko?

  • Croiteir

    oops – misuse of ‘s

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The trouble is voting for the wackos implicates the poor voter in their wacky-ism. You give them a “mandate” to claim that they speak on all subjects for each and every voter who marked the ballot by their name. Thats exactly why I am so very concerned that people who would never condone rape in their own families vote for a man who has done just this.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Unfortunately Seann those are the options that we are presented with. One of the reasons I’ve never voted.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Me neither, Sergiogiorgio, about voting I mean! I resent being told by my local MLAs that they represent me. Back in the sixties I was one of the two Anarchists in the PD whom Bob Purdie mentions in his “Politics in the Streets”(p.233, “less important” than Bernadette Devlin, apparently).

    I’ve become rather more cynical about the representative process than then, more radical with my grey hairs. After all, if voting changed anything, “they” would soon ban it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear Robin, ” I do not approve of censorship in any form but their should be much tighter guidelines around reporting information and very heavy penalties for transgressors.” You really cannot really have this both ways, either you have a system of vetted news favouring the powers that be or you have the free for all. You cannot, as the drunk radio exercise tutor told some bemused listeners in the 1960s “lie on your belly with your toes in the air.”

    Politicians who do nothing but represent their constituents, shun all personal agendas, resist using their powers of patronage unwisely and live like monks (or nuns!) would offer the media thin gruel for the sort of antics you complain about. The others deserve to be displayed in all their awfulness. No one made them put themselves in the public eye!

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Oh you little tout.

  • carl marks

    I think we are finished here Joe!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I would welcome a bit of anarchy here Seaan. Anything to change the dreary narrative.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Actually, Sergiogiogio, as an old Kropotkinist, I’d be what is now called a Communitarian, favouring decentralisation, voluntary associations and co-operation (“mutual aid”), with a lot of green stuff thrown in. Pretty much the opposite pole to the sociopathic streak in modern politics, and the all consumming greed it engenders in the broader society.

    A particular poisonious mix with our own dark twin fear narrative in the wee six.

    But yeah, it would be great to have a “new story” to play with, something that will never come from the politicians we see today.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “A number of those “condemning” the attack have in
    other posts have been venomous in their attacks of Orangeism”

    Let’s think about that for a minute.

    If true, they have then condemned attacks on an organisation
    that they have issues with.

    Surely that is worthy of praise rather than complaint?

    I still have a few nits to pick with the GAA but I would
    utterly condemn any attack on its property, players etc.

    Is this NOT the way things should be?

    Or (speaking of dark aspects of one’s psyche) does this
    imply a tone of falseness? Do you think that they are merely saying the right things all the while relishing the attacks on the OO properties?

    One of the more striking memories of back home is the
    ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ attitude.
    For example, if a Shinner was to NOT condemn an attack on something ‘Protestant’ then there would be angry
    cries around the living room “Can’t even bring themselves to condemn it!”

    And if they DO condemn a foul act the response is equally
    indignant; “But you never hear them condemning the attacks back in the day!”.

    It reminds me of a line from a movie: “Look at me! Look at
    me!” *looks in his direction* “How can you even look me??!!!”

    So, in my experience, unionists need to decide what they realistically ant: Do they want people to speak out against such attacks?

    Well, if so then they’ve got it. So then, how can we channel this into something more productive?

    If unionists DON’T want nationalists to condemn such acts as
    it is an impediment to the “they won’t rest till we’re gone” mentality then they should say so.

    You/we can’t have it both ways.

    “One cannot pour absolute hatred on an organisation yet step
    back and condemn while it’s physically attacked as the physical was a result of the mind and the verbal”

    This is part of the Northern Irish merry-go-round:

    Foul acts begat criticism & venom, criticism & venom
    begat foul acts and so it goes.

    If the OO don’t want to be ‘demonised’ they know what they
    need to do.

    A rarely mentioned problem is that OTHER people are telling
    them to change which in the Northern Irish Protestant mindset is the biggest reason of all NOT to do something.

    So if no one tells us we’re wrong, we won’t change. If
    people tell us we’re wrong, we dig our heels in and refuse to change.

    It is our curse.

    (Presbyterians were once a dynamic sort of folk once upon a
    time too but I unfortunately can’t see any sign of ‘Meiji-ism’ for them for the foreseeable future).

    Nothing can be done till we stop repeating the same tired,
    failing approaches:

    We do NOT need everyone to unite and protest and ‘fleg’ and
    vote for single unionist candidates and impotently forestall nationalist
    progress at every turn.

    We DO need to ‘tighten up’ the band scene and the Belfast

    We DO need to whittle down the influence of the OO, it
    should be more like that of SE England – a non-influential movement where Christians can flock together and hark back to bygone days but not bother anyone and certainly not have leverage over the big-wigs.

    We DO need to drop the ‘straw man’ mentality to arguing, all
    it dies is change topic/shift emphasis and the original topic lingers on.

    Want to truly hurt the Shinners?
    Then make unionism a non-Protestant, non-nationalistic ideal, not an exclusive club that people are born into. (Note; as unbelievable as this may sound coming from me, making SF
    the target of everything unionist is a disaster. Unionism should focus on the union, not what SF are up to)

    “. If people are so ill informed that they seriously think
    there are links between the OO and the KKK, that the OO is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity and it is a nasty sectarian organisation then (a) it’s no surprise this results in physical attacks”

    Correct, in which case if I were an OO big-wig I would
    endeavour to ensure that platforms for discussion of OO controversies are severely reduced to choke the air supply to such views. That would however include a rational approach to parading and debacles like Twadell and Drumcree.

    How many posts were there on the OO during marching season when the 11th night bonfires (not the OO’s patch, but they hold sway) were so vile? Or when flags were placed outside chapels? Or when ‘fleggers’ in Belfast turn the Belfast 12th into a kind of red, white and blue version of ‘The Walking Dead’?
    If the OO made a few hard decisions then at a stroke these posts and platforms are halved (at least).

    We’ve been here before Joe and we’ll be here again.
    In the
    meantime I will support the more valid criticisms from nationalist quarters (but lampoon the hysterical MOPEry) because as things stand they are correct in many of their accusations towards unionism and Orangism.
    Whether the observations are motivated by hurt, logic or
    hatred matters not. It’s the bottom line that matters.

  • Alan N/Ards

    AG, You really need to stand for election. Spot on post!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Cheers Alan, but the last thing NI needs is another inept
    politician. Though I can see the voting campaign now: “Vote Lundy #1”…