Is BCC’s political football vote evidence of an Alliance shift?

In the wake of last night’s vote the usual mudslinging in today’s local press is in danger of overlooking a subtly in Belfast’s political landscape that while perhaps overlooked shows the teeth of a decidedly abrupt change for one of it’s participants.

It’s important to note that both compromise amendments tabled by unionists involved both British and Irish nations on the reasonable belief that if you’re going to take the unprecedented action of congratulating teams based outside NI into our capital city when we’ve already welcomed our own, then it should be seen to be done in an even handed way.

As such the Alliance party bloc with its 8 present councillors held the casting vote once again and with their choice clear – either back the SDLP and restrict any invitation to the 2 Irish teams only or support one of the unionist tabled amendments which would see not only the Republic recognised but that of the two other British sides to qualify as well.

Jim Rodgers spoke – very reasonably it has to be said – that while he held misgivings about a national team who ‘stole’ players from Northern Ireland’s youth set up just as they were beginning to break through into the senior squad, he seen no issue inviting them to Belfast if the other home nations were treated with a similar respect.

In what may have been more in line with the general public’s view of the charade inside council chambers, Alderman Stalford asked “Who do we think we are?” The DUP’s idea was to send letters of congratulations to each of the 4 associations concerned in what would surely have knocked the real risk of associations having no appetite for such a loaded scenario firmly on the head.

In the event, all 7 Alliance councillors voted against either compromise.

Perhaps if the UUP amendment was tabled by Green councillor Ross Brown instead Alliance would have been embarrassed into voting for the compromise measure (Ross it should be noted spoke out against the costs involved yet voted for the amendment that was most costly to ratepayers, perhaps indicating the Greens still have some distance to cover before facing Stephen Nolan again).

As it was, Councillor McDonough-Brown speaking on behalf of Alliance choose to largely ignore the compromises suggested and proceeded to lay into Billy Hutchison’s risible notion of protests arising out of the debacle.

His wording too of ‘the’ Irish team when referring to the Republic of Ireland will no doubt be leapt on by Northern Irish football team supporters as a somewhat crass ignorance of our national team who happen to play their football in Belfast.

But there is something more fundamental wrong here – in black and white terms Alliance had no notion of voting for either compromise measure and proceeded to throw their lot in behind the SDLP with a view to using the crude street politics of Billy Hutchison in order to frame the compromising voices from the unionist bloc on the council.

It then begs the question – how can Alliance claim to be a ‘unifying’ force positioned firmly in the middle ground when they join in with nationalist grandstanding and refuse all compromise that unionists may put forward?

Under Lord Alderdice they once were a party acknowledged by all in getting the two warring tribes to meet half way.

It’s particularly ironic now they themselves can no longer be seen to compromise with one of those sides for electoral reasons and is this the dawn of Alliance the tactical anti-unionists as opposed to Alliance the middle ground?

  • kalista63

    You sound like my nieces and nephews.

    There’s no conflict in a person hurling on a Sunday, Irish classes on a Wednesday, trad music on a Saturday and not bothering to be arsed one way or another about the big question.

    History has shown that everytime things got more complex in NI, unionism plays the usual card. Papers liken the News Letter and Belfast Telegraph throw meatless bones to an ever decreasing audience that’s become click bait for Jamie and Willie.

    Meanwhile, The Irish News reflects modern nationalism, exposing who’s lining pockets, be it the NAMA story or loalised petrol industries.

  • kalista63

    The point I am trying to make is that I believe that Alliance are succeeding in appealing to both Roman Catholic and Protestant middle class voters.

    If they’d policies, they might appeal to working class ones too

  • Belfast Barman(ager)


  • kalista63

    Bless you.

    I couldn’t make sense of the rant.

  • Nevin

    I know that different councils had different arrangements, Brendan. However, it was the intention of the nationalist councillors to have the Union flag removed and APNI, naively, took them most of the way there. Hence my reference to no-man’s land.

    Naomi wasn’t on the council when the decisions were taken. She and Sylvia Hermon IMO were two of the best performers on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. She conducted herself with dignity during the debacle unlike some of her moaning minnie male colleagues.

  • Brendan Heading

    However, it was the intention of the nationalist councillors to have the Union flag removed and APNI, naively, took them most of the way there

    It’s a bizarre state of mind that castigates Alliance as “naive” because it resisted the demands of nationalist councillors and implemented a policy that Unionists implemented elsewhere voluntarily and on their own initiative.

  • Nevin

    It was incredibly naive in the context of Belfast; it gave nationalists most of what they wanted so the resistance was low.

  • Brendan Heading

    Why is giving nationalists most of what they want a bad thing, especially when it is also the same as what unionists wanted on other councils ?

    Weren’t the Unionists in Lisburn who voted for designated days also giving nationalists most of what they wanted on that council ?

  • Nevin

    With a little bit of dog-wit, APNI could have stepped to one side, not least on an issue that didn’t appear to have been of much concern to the general public.

    The fall-out continues in Coleraine.

  • Brendan Heading

    What do you mean “stepped to one side” ?

    The issue became of concern to the general public when certain parties leaflet-dropped large parts of the city.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’ve very little to disagree with in the above.

    Speaking of lining pockets, a lot of nationalist voters are doing quite nicely. Why risk it all by bringing forward constitutional change ?

  • kalista63

    Flags, anthems, denominations of notes, may come and go, borders may change but if you know what you are, you’re still the same.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Or, put another way ….. It was the intention of nationalist councillors to have the union flag removed and the intention of APNI to implement their policy of flying the union flag on designated days. Nationalist councillors, naively or otherwise, took APNI all the way there. And now the football results …. those not wishing to know the scores should look away now.

    APNI 1 Nationalist Councillors 0

    APNI Reserves 1 Unionist Councillors 0

  • NotNowJohnny

    Can you clarify what is meant by your use of the term ‘anti-unionist agenda’?

  • Lorcs1

    The whole thing is a big sectarian dick-swinging competition.

    Yes, in the interests of equality and inclusivity, Unionism should be more accepting and facilitating of Nationalists right to support and honour “their” national team, but that doesnt win any votes in protestant working classes.

    SDLP knew from the outset that Unionists would oppose it, and that the motion would solely serve to stoke tensions between sides. Hopefully the ROI team refuse to be treated as a pawn and reject the invitation.

    Horrible to see the predictability that this played out with on both sides. Both sides need to grow up and start trying to heal divisions rather than rubbing salt.

  • Nevin

    You’ve put the cart in front of the donkey, Brendan!

  • Nevin

    NNJ, I listened to an APNI councillor score an own goal: condemned the SDLP and SF for the manner in which they handled the football issue and then the party voted in unison for the nationalist motion. Meanwhile, up on the north coast the party is reduced to one seat on the new 40-member council.

  • Peter Moore

    I have to say, in my experience Naomi Long was a hard working Member of Parliament. Look at her voting record in Westminster compared with, for example, some DUP members and the juxtaposition speaks for itself. Her generic voting record can be seen here: I would suggest examining her voting on Employment / Taxation and Welfare / Benefits.

    Naomi Long, whilst MP for East Belfast, was also ‘on the ground’ quite a lot, as was advertised at the time to visit her in the constituency office etc. And as I raised earlier, I have personal experience of her engaging with contractors outside my house on my behalf (I would also like to state at this point I am not a member of the Alliance Party and never have been – as far as she was concerned I was just a constituent).

    This is all in quite stark contrast to Peter Robinson when he was MP for East Belfast and although I’d rather wait until his elected term has been completed, I haven’t seen that much of Gavin Robinson about, indeed, I still await a response from him on a matter I raised re: roads in East Belfast.

    Perhaps most importantly was the attempt to bring non-sectarian politics to East Belfast and work for all in the constituency. Also there was a consistent message against thuggery and criminal behaviour.

  • chrisjones2

    In the election probably. Why shouldn’t they?

    Should the Lottery fund a ‘preserve Alliance’ charity to prevent its extinction? For if it does who will be Justice Minister – I can just see the TV Ad ….

    “Here is wee Davy in his Gilded cage in Stormont.

    Davy was found cowering and shivering in fear after the voters had callously abandoned his party …….. please give generously. Your £10 can buy a shirt and tie…..£20 a mobile phone for a week and £100 can feed a former MLA in the Stormont canteen for a whole month”

  • Dan

    would you cite McClean as an example of such?

  • Dan

    ..but we all know McClean’s political opinion, and such a hardcore Republican, one with principle anyhow, wouldn’t have represented NI if he was principled.
    But he did, then abused the whole set up afterward.

  • Disdain

    I have no idea, and no interest in finding out in any specific case.

    I can say that I can see how someone’s identity could be subject to a range of factors growing up. I went to Mass, as Mum did. I went to a Catholic primary and grammar school, as (repressive sex-ed aside) it was the only avenue for a decent education in my area. At 15, I would have called myself Irish, and identified with the SDLP movement.

    Move to now (23), I attend NI games (as I always have, Dad’s influence), continue to support Ards FC (quite possibly the most Protestant town in the province) and have taken up an interest in Ulster rugby. Whilst still following the reliable disappointments of Dundrum and Down GAA, and watching ROI games when they don’t clash with NI. So now were someone to ask my national identity, I’d either bore them to death or tell them to f**k off, depending on the audience – but if forced to pick a team to represent, it’d be NI (as opposed to when I was 15).

    My point, in a long-winded fashion, being – it is unrealistic to enforce a commitment rule on all participants of age-grade football in a divided society. People change.

    What’s the alternative? McClean refusing a place in a NI squad, but being barred from playing for ROI?

  • submariner

    Sadly Peter the majority of east Belfast voters prefered the sectarian bigotry of the DUP to Niaomi

  • Katyusha

    “although nationalists there seem to recognise that Cork is not their capital city”
    On the contrary – in the Corkonian worldview, Cork is the true capital of Ireland, as well as the capital of the People’s Republic of Cork and the centre of the world.

  • Lord Coleraine

    If Alliance had “stepped to one side” the nationalists would have defeated the unionists and there would would be no flag at all on City Hall again. Ever.

  • Lord Coleraine

    Indeed. Nationalists voted along with Alliance, not the other way around 🙂

  • Lord Coleraine

    Yes Cork people are a bit mad

  • Lord Coleraine

    You can criticise the manner in which a debate is taken, but still agree with the motion. I fail to see the relevance of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council in this debate, even though you have mentioned it twice.

  • Lord Coleraine

    The Greens are far too arrogant to enrol in Politics 1.01.

  • Lord Coleraine

    It wouldn’t be very Alliance to turn against the unionists though. SK has hit the nail on the head – Unionists want supremacy, not equality. Alliance are able, as the holders of the balance of power, to force the unionists to accept equality. The unionists view this as anti-unionist, whereas, in face, it is only anti-unionist dominance.

  • Lord Coleraine

    No he/she probably can’t

  • st__etienne

    I am afraid the good people of Cork have been usurped by the bold nationalists of Belfast in this instance Katyusha!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Junior teams could select players who will be killed in road accidents or commit suicide have their careers ended prematurely, they may go overseas and never get seen again, also players themselves aren’t obliged to maintain their youth form into their senior careers either. Can’t simply base your future plans on who does well at youth level because a lot of internationals don’t develop from the youth team.

  • Nevin

    LC, Belfast and other ‘hotspots’ don’t operate in isolation. I mentioned the north coast because of the fall-out from the flags debacle and from the earlier Athboy conspiracy.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I see ok. It appeared a bit of a non-sequitur. I didn’t honestly see Alliance winning any more than two seats on CCGBC in 2014 (Causeway and Coleraine). I would accept that the reasonably disappointing vote in Coleraine was, at least to some degree, because of flags. The East Londonderry GE2015 vote shows a strong recovery though.

  • Nevin

    I’ve just had a look at the APNI EL improvement in 2015. It’s up 2.1% points, UUP is down 2.4, SDLP is down 3.2, SF is up 0.5 and DUP is up 7.6. Perhaps the gain can be put down to poor showings by the UUP and SDLP but it’s not that great compared to the DUP gain. Also it’s 2642 [2015] is still well behind some earlier Westminster results: 5839 [1979], 3237 [1987] and 3613 [1992].

  • Lord Coleraine

    I always look at the percentages. 7.6% was the best ever Alliance vote share in East Londonderry. 3,613 is more votes, but in a larger constituency (that took in Magherafelt etc) and a much higher turnout. It’s certainly moving in the right direction.

    Also, the DUP’s rise can be attributed to the lack of TUV or UKIP candidate. The crazies either had to stay at home or vote for Gregory. In the end, they voted for Gregory.

    Furthermore, since 90%+ of the Alliance vote in EL comes from the “triangle” area, it puts them in a pretty good position in Coleraine in 2019.

  • Tochais Siorai

    When there’s an attempt at introducing an Irish dimension, standard Unionist strategy (for want of a better word) appears to have evolved from open hostility (‘the racism was very evident’ to take a line from Turgon’s contribution) to muddying the waters. Thus it’s Mandarin above, Polish somewhere else, inviting Wales and England to BCC or the numerous ‘there are more speakers of (Insert whatever here) in Northern Ireland than Irish.
    There’s a common thread here and it’s just ‘Curry My Yogurt’ with a veneer.

  • Nevin

    That 5839 in Westminster 1979 should have been 5830 and its more that twice as good as 2015; it was also 9.16% of the vote share.

    “Alliance: 1,822 (3.9%) 1 councillor” put the party well behind in 6th place in CCGBC in 2014.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    In NI there is a culture of perceiving a ‘gain’ for one ‘side’ as an automatic loss for the other.

    In this case unionists (as unfortunately the NI team is perceived to be the property of) have a shin dig ergo nationalists need one too.

    This isn’t spiteful rather it’s now just the northern way of doing things and both sides are equally guilty of it (demonstrated on the unionist side by Bill hill complaining that “themuns get everything, we get nothin”)

    Unionism would gain more by being magnanimous in this instance as nothing would disconcert nationalists more than seeing Jim allister doing tequila shots with James McLean at two in the morning.. .

    But alas, ‘refuse an inch, lose a mile’, it should be unionism’s motto by now or epitaph in future.

  • Saint Etienne

    An interesting insight from a time a decade beyond my own attendance. Looking at the leading members of Alliance in today’s city hall I can see how you would say ‘not surprised’. What surprises me is that this trend goes largely unreported other than a blithe nod to flag protests as explanation. What you are outlining is that it – the deliberate face off with unionism – has been a long time coming.

    Btw, note members of the Alliance youth wing at QUB have taken an equivocal standpoint on confrontation in the not so distant past, so perhaps this is symptomatic of relying on that particular cohort for candidates?

  • Saint Etienne

    A commonly reported fiction. The Republic’s team has been technically allowed to pick NI born players since they first broke away. The GFA had a lot of signatories, none of them FIFA.

  • John

    SF are the only party he doesn’t criticise so I guess so.

  • Brendan Heading


    I would like to know how Alliance could have “stepped to one side”. Can you explain this to me ?

  • Brendan Heading


    There are various ways the election results can be interpreted. However, I’d like to deal with the simple stuff first. You suggested that all of these problems could have been avoided if Alliance had side-stepped the matter. Can you explain how, exactly ?

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m really not sure what your point is. Your issue appears to be wth James McClean rather that the FAI. Had James McClean rejected the FAI and chosen instead to play for Northern Ireland, would you have been in favour of that?

  • tmitch57

    “The core belief of Irish nationalism is in a unified nation.”

    Actually the core belief seems to be that geography equals political destiny. Unionism believes in a state that is united on an East-West axis geographically, whereas nationalism believes in a state that is united on a North-South axis. Either way involves a large number of people ending up as a large national minority in the other’s state. The present arrangement leaves fewer people stranded on the wrong side of the border than in a “united Ireland.” When that changes the arrangement will change.

  • Dan

    I’d have had a modicum of respect for him if he’d done the honourable thing and rejected NI from the outset.

  • Ryan A

    Nonsense. They’ll have 9/10 seats likely in May.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Am I correct that IFA was the original all-Ireland organisation and the South broke away?