On Celebrity Endorsements & Battleground Constituencies

Celebrity endorsements are a feature of political life across the western world. We are well used to prominent figures in the entertainment industry lining up to endorse or criticise political candidates- in the United States, Britain and Ireland.

Figures within the sporting world are also known for raising their voices to offer opinions on political developments and at election time.

In recent days, snooker’s Ronnie O’Sullivan publicly offered his support to Jeremy Corbyn ahead of June’s election. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, has been using the platform of regular media briefings throughout the season and playoffs to regularly criticise President Trump.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, Ulster and Ireland rugby captain, Rory Best, publicly backed the Remain side.

As this leaflet from the 2012 Irish Presidential election campaign illustrates, candidates seeking to use the endorsements of high-profile figures in society is nothing new.

BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback covered the issue of political endorsements from sports figures at length on Friday, with contributions from Sean Kelly (Fine Gael MEP & former President of the GAA) and a number of local contributors. This came in the aftermath of Pete McGrath, former Down GAA senior football manager and current senior football manager of Fermanagh, endorsing South Down Sinn Fein candidate, Chris Hazzard.

Tyrone legend, Peter Canavan, appeared in a similar Twitter video to endorse Sinn Fein’s West Tyrone candidate, Barry McElduff, whilst Cliftonville FC striker, Joe Gormley, signed the nomination papers for Sinn Fein’s North Belfast candidate, John Finucane.

Of the Talkback contributors, former senior SDLP figure, Tom Kelly, was the most critical of the decision of Pete McGrath to participate in the video endorsement.

Tom Kelly described it as “a departure” in Northern Ireland, claiming that this was a “groundbreaking move” because McGrath was “the public face of the GAA for many supporters.”

Tom has a background in communications, so I can only imagine he recognises that this story augurs well for the Sinn Fein candidate- ironically, even more so given the publicity arising as a result of Tom’s criticism.

There are two aspects of this story that interest me.

Firstly, a person’s sporting profile should not act to exclude them from expressing opinions when it comes to politics. Different sporting organisations will have their own rules (like many other public and private bodies) in relation to political affiliations, but  the principle of free speech in this regard should be preserved.

In a similar way, this was an issue prior to the March Assembly election, when permanent secretary at Stormont’s Health Department, Richard Pengelly, emailed health trust chiefs to express concern at “overtly political” tweets. At that time, there was a sharply negative reaction from across the political spectrum to Pengelly.

The second issue relates to the worth of receiving an endorsement.

In the USA, celebrity endorsements heavily favour liberal candidates, usually from the Democratic Party, at both State and Federal level. If presidential election contests were determined by celebrity endorsements, there would not have been eight years of President George W Bush and nor would we be many months into the Trump era.

Celebrity endorsements, on their own, don’t have a significant effect in terms of swaying the opinions of voters.

Where they can have an influence is if they are viewed as tapping into and affirming a mood.

The South Down constituency is a critical battleground within nationalism this time in a way that it has never been before.

Traditionally an SDLP stronghold, Sinn Fein returned after March with an emphatic victory, securing more than 19,000 votes to just 12,500 for the SDLP candidates.

The sheer scale of the Sinn Fein lead, particularly when contrasted with Foyle, where the SDLP post-March have a much smaller deficit of some 2,000 odd votes to make up, has meant that Hazzard is well-positioned to finally claim the South Down seat for Sinn Fein.

The McGrath endorsement will sting many in the SDLP because it is consistent with March’s clear statement from the electors of South Down.

In the end, it is those voters who will make the decision.






  • johnny lately

    One is a horse, two is Barry McGuigan who claimed he was warned by the RUC and we all know how morally defective they were. Number three is propaganda from a loyalist alcoholic with no other evidence other than hearsay and your final source is also simply hearsay from a self confessed thief.

    Get some real evidence.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    There’s a few things on the topic;


    Summarised in this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2040628/When-booze-wasnt-threat-Bests-life-WHOSE-SIDE-ARE-YOU-ON-SPORT-THE-TROUBLES-AND-ME-BY-TEDDY-JAMIESON.html

    And regarding Best, “1972 Withdraws from Northern Ireland team to face Spain after IRA death threats. Walks out on United – but returns.” from https://www.theguardian.com/football/2005/nov/27/sport.comment1

  • Am Ghobsmacht
  • johnny lately

    Theres lots of evidence out there though T.E about loyalist paramilitaries threatening sports personalities and even going so far as to attack them but I’ve yet to see any evidence of the IRA publicly threatening any sports personality or directly attacking them. The evidence you post up is based on intelligence supplied by people who would have been interested in portraying a narrative that was no different than whats been portrayed in Westminster at this present time about witch hunts being pursued against old men.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Someone pointed out to me that once upon a time as a rule of thumb Labour MP’s cut their teeth in the factories, unions and shop-floors and tories cut theirs in business ownership (with the exception of the gentry I suppose but then again many of them would have been ex-officers).

  • Skibo

    Ted he played under Ireland right up through and now when he could have represented Ireland at the Olympics, he seemed loathed to do so. Is that the point you are trying to make?

  • johnny lately

    Its still only hearsay AG the IRA have never publicly threatened or attacked any sports personality. Loved Alex, though in his last decade you had to do a runner anytime you seen him or he’d capture you for a tap, especially when you spied him at Ballyskeagh.

  • The Living End

    it take a lot to balance out Nelson McCausland

  • james

    They are from four diverse publications, and detail four diverse instances of Republican criminality. Not sure which media sources you actually would respect – and I couldn’t find the stories in An Phoblacht.

  • Robin Keogh

    No, I am currently in hospital recovering from a stroke so maybe you would be so good as to’find out yourself.

  • ted hagan

    Sports writer Eamon Lynch put it much better than I could:

    “The reality is that McIlroy is hostage to this peculiarly Northern Irish dilemma, expected to choose between two abusive custodians who want to brandish him as a spoil of a war he isn’t fighting.”

  • Vince

    That’s not correct. The primary responsibility of a healthcare professional (nurse, doctor etc) is to the health and welfare of their patients not the sensitivities of their employers.

  • johnny lately

    Have you actually got evidence of the IRA publicly threatening or attacking any sports personality other than a horse and hearsay from third or forth parties or unknown sources ?

    Im not surprised you couldn’t find any stories in An Phoblacht that would suit your narrative, thats because the IRA have never publicly threatened or attacked any sports personalities, other than a horse.

  • james

    I’ve listed four separate articles, with quotes from the sports people concerned. Are they all liars in your mind?

  • johnny lately

    Three of which are based on hearsay evidence from dubious sources and the other is a horse. Two are liars and the other was informed by the RUC. None of the above were publicly threatened by the IRA so what your claiming is nothing but hearsay and innuendo.

  • Granni Trixie

    But the elephant in the room is that SF is the only party in Ni which continues to justify a violent campaign.

  • Granni Trixie

    You’re lucky the Slugger police are on theIr lunch break,

  • Nap McCourt

    Pete is entitled to support whomever he wishes. However I’m surprised he feels comfortable supporting the team, that supported the team, that blew up half of Rostrevor and Warrenpoint.

  • james

    I’m not sure why you’re in such denial about who and what the IRA were. Too many movies, or just a hopelessly naive personality type?

  • Ray Lawlor

    No mention of Sinead O’Connor’s bizarre attempt at Joining Sinn Fein a few years back? Had to be oddest few weeks of Celeb gossip in Irish history.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    50K Irishmen who applauded England onto the pitch at Lansdowne Road that day must have thought so or knew some sort of evidence would you not think ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Ach stop giving him a hard time – the lad is alright he wants to clear my credit card !

  • johnny lately

    And no doubt in your fantasy world an IRA gang led by Gerry Adam’s great grandfather were driving the iceberg that hit the Titanic.

  • the keep

    They attacked Billy Sinclair those of a certain age will remember him.