John Coyle, Phil Flanagan and the herd mentality

The View held a debate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone last night and the SDLP candidate who is not quite so new to politics as first suspected and was naturally nervous did not have a good night. And, who could blame him? He is running in the most marginal seat in the UK and he is up against two political veterans in Michelle Gildernew and Tom Elliott.

Trying to get heard above the din is always going to be difficult but we should with all newcomers allow for some degree of nerves. It’s very easy to just dismiss someone because of a bad media performance. This is not John’s first election [elected to Fermanagh & Omagh Council for Erne North back in May 2014]  and I am sure he has many more ahead of him, but the social media sphere should cut some slack to newer candidates. It takes real guts to walk into a seat like that and put up your hand. For that, John deserves real credit.

Here I have to give an honourable mention to Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan, who despite Coyle standing against his party colleague, stood up to the herd mentality;


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  • Croiteir

    I agree – he was awful and I suppose he was nervous and allowances must be made. Does it show that the SDLP is devoid of seasoned performers or that seasoned performers do not want to run there, for them a defeat would be bad on the CV. Personally I believe that the SDLP pool of candidates is shallow, have they declared in all constituencies yet? Is there no one wanting to run?

  • Dilseacht

    It wasn’t as bad as i thought it was made out to be. I watched it late last night as i was at work when it was broadcast and i was waiting on another Renua/Terence Flanagan type debacle after seeing the explosion on social media about it.. It was nothing near as bad as that.. He’s a young lad and this is probably his first televised gig so i can understand the rabbit in the headlights performance.. Elliott and Gildernew have vast years of experience on him and even Elliott comes across as a goon a lot of the time.. As nightmarish as it probably was for Coyle, and as daft as it looked to the wider audience, most people here won’t be too bothered by his performance.. They’ll know he’s pretty green around the ears.. Most people here already think he’s an SDLP sacrificial lamb anyhow, as most of the older heads wouldn’t have touched this election with a bargepole..

  • Turgon

    At least the BBC allowed three candidates onto the show one of whom is expected to be heavily defeated. A lesson which might be applied closer to home.

  • Dan

    Bennett better than Farage?……pull the other one.
    She was out of her depth from her first word. Dreadful.

  • Pete

    I watched after reading the twitter reaction, and he wasn’t as bad as I expected.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Bennett’s a nervous public performer. She probably did the right thing in merely summarising party policies rather than scrap with Nasty Nige. Or turn up her nose as if he’d just farted, as he used to do 😉

    These things are over-rated. Miliband- another wooden orator- will be prime minister in a month’s time. Farage will lead about four or five MPs.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Aye, he was nervous and halting and spoke in a monotone, but didn’t dry or say anything gormless.

    What programmes like this need is experienced hacks like Carruthers to make an effort beyond lazy soundbites. If these elections are sectarian head-counts it’s because almost everyone votes for nationalist or unionist, not that you only get a choice of one candidate from one or both blocs.

  • Pete

    See, I’ve listened to another John Coyle interview online now ( ), and he sounded similar. I don’t mean to be harsh to him, but perhaps he just naturally has a bit of a nervous-sounding monotonous style in these situations – there are worse crimes!

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Here John, would this be a good time to dig up some of your very much less than kind comments about Chris Lyttle from a few years ago ?

  • Colin Lamont

    Interesting to hear the former MP say that even some Gildernew supporters were more worried about the numbers not being ‘as good’ as last time. If Tom can maximise the unionist vote (say, get the combined unionist total from 2011) he’ll win. But I can’t see it. Some unionists just won’t vote for a UUP man. Plus Sinn Fein will have many times the infrastructure and activist base of the UUP to get out the vote on the day.
    Interesting battle nonetheless. Hard to see the SDLP doing even worse than in 2010. Coyle at least is on the ground and a councillor in the constituency.

  • tanyaj

    As the Green Party candidate for FST, I would have quite appreciated the chance to be nervous and overwhelmed, but had to make do with 33 seconds of Gareth Gordon’s prerecorded interview (not the best 33 seconds, either). An invitation would have been nice, especially as Alliance declined theirs.

  • Dan

    No harm to any of them, but I’d much rather Question Time was on before the dreary The View with arrogant Carruthers.

  • 241934 John Brennan

    John Coyle didn’t get much of a look in and it doesn’t matter. The people of Fermanagh don’t do politics. They can’t eat a flag but they can wave tricolours and union jacks and vote early and often in great numbers for their favoured flag. Perhaps the greatest representative Fermanagh ever had was the abstentionist MP, who only ever once visited Westminster so that, in his own words “he could abstain in person”

  • Steve Larson

    Look at Alistair McDonald, in any other party he would hardly have made it to council level.

    When standards drop at the top, they also drop at the bottom. Poor Coyle was left swimming in the nip, no support.

  • Robin Keogh

    In percentage terms i would be willing to bet a lunch to anyone who wants it that the SDLP vote will be lower than 2010

  • Steve Larson

    Nor do the SDLP leadership seem to be too bothered with that prospect. They do not seem to be bothered by much at all.

  • Croiteir

    Of course they do politics. What you mean is they do not do the politics that you want them to do.

  • Robin Keogh

    Its as if they have just given up

  • 241934 John Brennan

    Look at Gerry Adams, in any other party he would have been committed for physiatric care. See the rather charitable ‘unbalanced’ diagnosis afforded him today – from the McConville

  • Catcher in the Rye

    “His performances in the Assembly were less than stellar and of course he was co-opted.”

    I think there’s a marked difference in the way that you got stuck into Chris, whose performance was something similar to Coyle’s, and the way that you are defending Coyle here. It’s good that you have mellowed.

    For the record, I’d agree with you. I’d much rather people focused on the issues than on whether or not the guy’s media performance was polished or not. Of course, it benefits SF to be seen to be magnanimous in their position. They’re way too slick to be drawn into the petty stuff.

  • kalista63

    Responding on Nolan to the party accepting the pay rise, Ferghal McKinney came on and did the best M Donnell impression imaginable, bullying and just not getting it. The party seems to be suffering from some sort of Asperger’s syndrome, completely blind to how people respond to their tactics.

  • John Coyle

    “The SDLP candidate who is new to politics.”
    Hardly. I am currently the Chairman of the SDLP’s Fermanagh Executive.
    I have been the SDLP’s local representative in Erne North since 2011 when I ran but didn’t get on to the Council.
    In 2014 I was successful in getting elected onto the new Fermanagh and Omagh Super Council.
    I’ve been selected by my party to be on the PCSP and the Planning Committee on the new Council.
    In Fermanagh I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.
    I got the fifth highest vote in Erne North last year with 628 first preferences.
    Don’t act like you’re not impressed!

  • Davros64

    Except can’t see Milibland being PM. Camoron will win most votes and be amazed now if UKrap get >3 seats.
    EM’s oratory skills aren’t the best but far superior to the hapless Bennett who strikes me as largely useless and totally unelectable!

    And the last line in the first paragraph makes no sense…no change there!

  • John Gorman

    Just watched the show last night expecting some sort of meltdown and instead I saw a young guy who was a bit wooden on one of his first media performances, hardly a big deal. To be honest I find it much worse when a seasoned politician from the area (not standing this time) comes out with clangers such as I have went and many more classics.

  • Thanks for getting in touch John – post amended to credit your experience and success!

  • Though I’m disappointed that John Mooney hadn’t spotted the error even earlier!!

  • Joe_Hoggs

    As someone from FST, I do agree that you should have been allowed to voice your opinions. However (yes this word usually negates the previous sentence), the Green party are quite radical and unwilling to engage in mature discussions regarding fracking in FST, something to keep in mind for the future. On a final point FST is a one horse race and the Green party will struggle to get anywhere near 200 votes.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I would be surprised if this actually is John Coyle with the following statement:

    In Fermanagh I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I estimate around 1k votes for the SDLP. Michelle will get around 23-24k with Tom getting 17-18k.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Alan are you sure this is him ?

    “In Fermanagh I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

  • John Coyle

    “I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”
    “Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”
    I was trying to show that I have a sense of humour.
    I was quoting Ron Burgundy.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I stated the same thing. I would find it very unlikely that a politician would write a highly damaging line such as the below about themselves.

    “In Fermanagh I’m very important”

  • Steve Larson

    Very possibly. He would not survive in another party as leader.

    Does not change that McDonald is not up to much as leader. He is politically none existent

  • Kevin Breslin

    I will give Phil Flanagan some credit here also, because the power of the herd is not the same as the power of the people. I believe the vast majority of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone are sick of people who bully and and degrade those who dare to take a differing view point in a democracy.

    Herds are often small minorities who have very little to offer.

    Do Sinn Féin want to live in an Ireland where political opponents are bullied and the real issues are simply ignored? I don’t believe they do.

    Is that being the change they want to see in Ireland? I don’t believe it is.

    Do Sinn Féin want undecided voters and possibly even supporters of Coyle who might consider a transfer deterred from voting for Gildernew (or indeed anyone at all) simply because of a bunch of narcissistic cowardly internet trolls think mudslinging is going to intimidate people into voting their way?
    I don’t believe they do.

    And all the confidence of any political performance we still need some sense of being honorable, even though republicans don’t take honors, to them there should be no greater honor than representing the people (however and wherever they should do that) and no one should dishonor or disgrace that.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Alasdair McDonnell won a Westminster seat he was contesting for 28 years or so in South Belfast, from a mere tally of 3,000 to winning the seat. Had he stayed in the National Democrats with the 4,000 tally he got in North Antrim he’d probably would’ve made council there too. So even before the SDLP he was high enough profile in the area there.

    He went from a council level vote range to Westminster at a time when his party was struggling. If any member of any other party was doing the same thing of course they would have a senior role in it. He actually wasn’t in the background to John Hume.

    That’s even a bigger swing over the same period than Alliance’s rise is East Belfast or indeed many of the Sinn Féin seats.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If these pacts result in:

    Sinn Féin contesting 18 seats beating the DUP contesting 16

    SDLP contesting 18 seats beating the UUP contesting 15,

    Alliance contesting 18 seats beating UKIP contesting what 10?,

    The Green Party and other left wing groups who are contesting 3 or 4 beating the TUV & PUP who are contesting 3 or 4.

    All because these unionist parties choose to make these contest handicap ones, all because these unionist parties and attacked the Alliance Party and NI21 who are closer to “mainland” politics than they (including the kippers) seem to be.

    We could see a situation where Sylvia Hermon, a group of Cannabis decriminalization lobbyers, the local Tories, and some eccentric down in West Tyrone, hold the balance between the “liberal unionist-pan nationalist front-assorted lefties” and effectively the Unionist Forum parties.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Agreed, credit to Flanagan in this instance although he is a politician that I particularly loathe. If one looks at Gilderniew’s FB page however, the true bullying and hatred is here from both the “MP” herself and some of her so called supporters.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s a line where agitprop becomes ad hominum. Michelle would be best abstaining from the mudslinging after Tom Elliot was so vocal last time she should not take the gift horse of his candidature in the mouth. A vote for John Coyle is not one for Tom Elliot, any more than a vote for “New Belfast” is one for Jonathan Bell. Parties have a right to stand.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Elliott is a better candidate that Rodney Connor was and in all honestly Gilderniew has performed very poorly over two tenues as an MP for FST. If she gets re-elected for a third tenure which seems likely then it really will illustrate that the people of FST would prefer anyone to a Unionist.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The majority people of FST already would prefer anyone to a unionist, there is no unionist has ever had a majority in the constituency, they’ve had pluralities but not real majorities. Tom Elliot also is not someone who’d attract “non-unionist” votes, he is someone who after insulting the Sinn Féin voters could maximize the Sinn Féin vote here against slippage.

    On local government if you were to take the constituent parts of Fermanagh and Omagh (Fermanagh) and the Mid Ulster vote (South-Tyrone) that make up Fermanagh South Tyrone, Sinn Fein boosted simply with Barry Monteith’s and Bernice Swift’s Eirigi votes beats DUP-UUP-TUV-UKIP combined.

    If local government election results were to repeat in bloc form a pact between Sinn Féin and the fringe republican groups would win the seat even before a single SDLP voter, Alliance voter or Green voter thinks of changing side.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I very much realise that in FST we (Unionists) are very much in the minority and completely forgotten about.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Minority yes, forgotten about no.

    Two reasons:

    1. Nothing stopping unionist MPs from other areas mentioning the place in Westminster even though they won’t have MP constituencies there.

    2. The polarizing of this contest is such a them and us one you will inevitably lose all sight of the other side.

    I do believe that the big problem is an outdated FPTP system. Unionists, Nationalists and Others would have nothing to lose from getting rid of it other than holding seats over majorities through “split” votes.

    If Tom Elliot didn’t insult Sinn Féin supporters I repeat not the party but the actual supporters (and I accept he apologized for doing so) and if there was some sort of acknowledgement that Sinn Féin supporters including his political opponents Michelle Gildernew, Hannah Su, John Coyle and Tanya Jones are as much his constituents as his voters are, and that is equally true to the SDLP and Sinn Féin about unionist constituents… then the contest would probably remain a sectarian headcount but at least it would be less ugly.

    Having said that, he like Flanagan and several other Sinn Féin and UUP representatives in this contest have condemned the “trolls” attacking John Coyle.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Forgotten about, we have no voice in Westminster, our MP is constantly promoting IRA terrorists throughout FST (does she live here?), the county town is becoming more like a ghost town with the proposed courthouse move, shops closing and schools merging closing or not being built. Gilderniew has delivered very little for us but because she is a Republican she must be voted back in.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I understand, it’s the same case for people who don’t define themselves as Unionist or would vote for Sinn Féin, not just in Fermanagh and South Tyrone but elsewhere. Sinn Féin supporters have to live in the ghost town too, they have every right to vote as any unionist does.

    That’s minorities in politics under First Past the Post … many Labour or Tory voters who see their party lose their seat to the other lot, might prefer that their MP didn’t show up. Sinn Féin are happy to make this a referendum on Westminster, but they still take the expenses and offices and are happy to act as diplomats.

    Voters will vote with their bottom line and unless Sinn Féin supporters or Sinn Féin itself turn away from abstentionism (as they have on Councils, ROI elections and the Assembly) that bottom line in Fermanagh and South Tyrone removing legitimization to a unionist candidate, no matter what the concerns about people in the here and now.

    Of course it goes at odds with them saying in the UK unionists have 1% of a say but in a United Ireland they could have 15%. 1% is bigger than 0%. And of course the best way to hurt a unionist unity candidate is to win unionist votes, convert maybe just a few to the ideals of republicanism, and an Irish economy that is fighting back but of course they wont or cant do that either.

    Sinn Féin have welcomed Unionist Unity and defended it, partially because they want Nationist Unity to counteract it. Such was the case with the “SDLP stand aside in Five seats and we’ll support you in one seat” deal.

    No talk of unity candidates, or Frank Magires, or Bernadette Devlins representing a real voice in real issues like Sinn Féin supporters used to throw their weight behind, just like they had done for some SDLP candidates too. It was clever of Tom Elliot to mention that.

    Not that abstentionism is what this is about:

    Pat Doherty, Paul Maskey and Francie Molloy, they have multiple unionist candidates up against them, while the DUP/ UUP/ UKIP/ TUV are all ganging up on Naomi Long who does take her seat and it must be said Gerry Kelly who isn’t even an incumbent MP. Nor is this about Unionism, because the DUP wanted the UUP out of Upper Bann and East Londonderry “to stop Sinn Féin”, stopping the UUP was just a happy coincidence.

    They tried to get a pact in South Belfast but the UUP feared they would be wiped out of the Assembly, again just a happy coincidence. And the UUP lost their only MLA in South Down because of pacts, while the DUP seat isn’t safe from Henry Reilly. As for Foyle, the UUP didn’t stand at the last Westminster elections and no one really noticed.

    Both sides (DUP/UUP) and Sinn Féin and some of the independents who broke away from them are using the ballot box as a weapon not a tool.

    Making the contest a sectarian headcount is at best going to provide a Pyrrhic victory, because between Sands/Carron and Michelle Gildernew there was a growing sentiment in the community that they did not want Ken Magginnis to be their MP either. However unless there is a real Equality agenda where nationalists and unionists can see eye to eye on addressing some of the issues the vote will be polarized.