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?