Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Labour's Prospects

With negotiations completed, a programme for government drafted, and ministries agreed, Fine Gael and Labour have formed a new coalition government in the south. Boasting a combined seat tally of 113, the new administration has a commanding majority.

Last weekend Labour party delegates attending an extraordinary conference at UCD voted on whether to go into government with Fine Gael, with the result coming in at around 95 percent in favour. However, the Irish Times reported that more than 35 speakers spoke for and against coalition in equal numbers. This would suggest that, despite the resounding result of the conference vote, either those speaking in favour of going into government were highly persuasive, or many members are concerned about the prospect of working with Fine Gael but have decided to give it a chance anyway.

So, should Labour be worried about what will become of them when the next election comes around? It’s true that both they and Fine Gael have a tough programme of work ahead and will have to make some difficult choices, many of which are likely to be unpopular. Labour will be concerned that they in particular could take the brunt of the flak from the public as a result given that perhaps people expect Fine Gael to make cuts but may be less open to the idea of Eamon Gilmore’s party being involved. Labour veteran Brendan Howlin taking up the post of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform also puts the party right at the centre of the maelstrom.

Looking back over the performances of coalition parties dating back to the 1992 General Election shows a mixed bag for both senior and junior partners at the polls after their term of office had drawn to a close. Figures show that coalition parties have both increased and lost votes.

However, it could be argued that the standing of the junior partners has traditionally displayed greater volatility, and with Labour having been burnt already in 1997 (despite arguably having been midwife at the birth of the Celtic Tiger during their time in office), many party members may well be concerned that their current historically high number of seats could be under threat if coalition government doesn’t go well this time around. In the same election of 1992, for instance, senior coalition partner Fine Gael actually saw its number of seats increase by one fifth.

Likewise, while the Progressive Democrats doubled their number of seats in 2002 after having been in government with Fianna Fáil, they subsequently lost three quarters of those seats in 2007 and folded not long afterwards. Fianna Fáil’s seat number fell by less than four percent in 2007 despite having been at the helm of the government with the PDs.

In the 2011 election, while senior coalition partner Fianna Fáil catastrophically saw its seat number drop by around three quarters, junior partner the Green Party lost all of its seats.

So what lies ahead for Labour? There is a number of possibilities. One potential outcome is that while the centre-right Fine Gael party gets away with making tough decisions, Labour could take the hit if it is perceived to have failed to act as the ‘conscience’ within government. We can already see this phenomenon manifesting itself in the UK with the Lib Dems finding themselves in a spot of bother. The Tories have avoided the same level of censure as has befallen the junior coalition party there on issues such as tuition fees and at the recent by-election, perhaps given that people always expected Cameron’s party to wield the knife but may have assumed a ‘softer’ approach by Clegg and Co and are now disappointed at the latter’s apparently ineffectiveness in government.

Another possibility is that Labour consolidates its current position and remains roughly where it is in terms of seats. This will largely depend of whether Fianna Fáil can rebuild and how Sinn Féin manages to capitalise on the bounce it received in the recent election.

A third outcome could be that Labour builds on its current historical high and expands further across the state into areas where is has traditionally been absent. This has been the party’s biggest problem hitherto, but it currently has the strongest platform in its history from which to build a sustainable and comprehensive infrastructure, one which could well lead to the true arrival of a Left-Right dynamic between the main government and opposition parties after the next General Election- a first for Dáil Éireann.

It’s a bit early to be talking about elections in the Republic, but with things changed utterly, there is everything to play for and everything to lose in the new landscape at Leinster House.

For info, here are the full figures quoted above:

1992 FF 68 (-9) -11.6% PD 10 (+4) +75%
1997 FG 54 (+9) +20% Lab 17 (-16) -48% DL 4%
2002 FF 81 (+4) +5.19% PD 8 (+4) +100%
2007 FF 78 (-3) -3.7% PD 2 (-6) -75%
2011 FF 20 (-58) -74.35% Greens 0 (-6) -100%

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Election Time Looms

Jeepers, it's two months since I posted on here! Whatever was I thinking taking such a lengthy sojourn?

I return to the blogosphere with the General Election looming. This time last year, it looked as though this election would be pretty much the same as the last one in 2005 in terms of outcome in Northern Ireland. However, a year is a long time in politics. Since then, we've had the rise of the TUV and their decent showing in the European elections, the demise of Iris Robinson's political career, and ex-TV stars Mike Nesbitt and Fearghal McKinney throwing their hats into the ring in Strangford and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone respectively.

So what will the outcome of the election be? Well, I'll hedge my bets in terms of the results in Northern Ireland. Whatever they turn out to be, this will be a fascinating election.

Across the UK generally, there could well be a hung parliament. David Cameron's Conservative have lost some ground to Gordon Brown's Labour in the polls. Given the massive swing that would be needed for the Tories to secure an outright majority, could it be that voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than the devil they don't? In terms of the unprecedented TV leaders' debates which are scheduled, I think Cameron has more to lose than Brown insofar as he's the favourite so there's no other way for him to go than backwards if things don't work out on air.

If there is a hung parliament, could we see a Lib/Lab coalition? Such a pact is not completely unprecedented- the two parties are in coalition in the Welsh Assembly. However, in Westminster's First Past The Post system, it would be a major departure.

There has been disquiet in some quarters that if there is a hung parliament, a Lib/Lab coalition could form a government even if the Tories are the single biggest party. Personally I don't see this as a major problem- in countries more used to coalitions, it happens all the time. After all, Fine Gael hasn't been the biggest party in Ireland since it was overtaken by Fianna Fáil in the 1930s, but it has still formed coalition governments.

Ultimately voters choose the MP for their constituency. Whether that MP's party forms a coalition is up to his or her respective party. I think that people going to the ballot box in May will know that this is a possibility, so it's not as if such a post-election pact to form a government would be a bolt out of the blue.

Another option should there be a hung parliament would be for a party to form a minority government. However, this by its nature could breed instability given that it would require the support of smaller parties for important votes, which could leave the government open to accusations of pandering to those whom it needs to woo.

The Conservatives will be hoping that they can carry enough seats to see them across the line and avoid any such headaches. If the polls are right, it may not be as clear cut as everyone once thought.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The American Red Cross and Haiti: Fundraising 2010-style

Much was made of Barack Obama's ability to harness new technology to bankroll his election campaign in 2008.

Now, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, a new example of excellent use of technology to fundraise has emerged with the American Red Cross' SMS text message campaign.

Mobile phone users in the US can text 'Haiti' to 90999, which results in $10 being debited from their phone account and handed to the Red Cross appeal. The project is a joint initiative between the US State Department and the Red Cross which was started late on Tuesday night.

The company managing the campaign, mGive, has confirmed on Twitter that $2 million has now been raised through the initiative.

This is an excellent example of how new technology can be used to simplify the process of charitable donation. By using a device the majority of us uses every day- a mobile phone- to enable people to donate to the Haiti campaign in the simplest of ways, they have been able to raise a vast amount of money is less than two days to help people affected by the earthquake.

This campaign will set a benchmark for future fundraising campaigns by charities and other groups, and shows just how new technology is changing dramatically many aspects of daily life.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt's E-mail Regarding Parliamentary Labour Party Leadership Ballot

Dear Colleague,

As we move towards a General Election it remains the case that the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided over the question of the leadership. Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.

This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.

Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.

Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be expected by the majority of the PLP to devote all of their efforts to winning the election. The implications of such a vote would be clear – everyone would be bound to support the result.

This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray us as dispirited and disunited. It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target.

In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.

Yours fraternally,

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt

Friday, 11 December 2009

Online campaign to bankrupt BNP

There are messages doing the rounds on Twitter suggesting an interesting way to rack up a substantial bill for the British National Party.

The BNP appears to use another name for certain projects- British Heritage- to which people can send correspondence via a freepost address (British Heritage FREEPOST).

According to Royal Mail, for recipients "Freepost NAME replies cost 42p per item, with no handling fee." In other words, every time the BNP receives post addressed to its freepost address, they have to fork out 42p.

The Twitter campaign is calling on all manner of correspondence to be sent to this address.

The question of cross-over between the BNP and 'British Heritage' also raised its head locally this week, as the BNP denied holding a meeting at Larne Football Club. According to the Larne Times, "the event at Larne FC social club on the Station Road was organised by British Heritage, said by the BNP's regional organiser Paul Stevens to be "a group who support the aims of the BNP"."

However, the fact that the BNP's own website states that the above freepost address, complete with the term 'British Heritage', is the party's official route for postal correspondence would seem to contradict this. Is the BNP, on the back of the increased controversy surrounding their success at the European elections, now using the 'British Heritage' term to organise events?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Tackling the Downturn Dragons' Den-style

Over at, I spotted an interesting story that someone picked up from 'The Nationalist' newspaper. Apparently a couple of businessmen, whose commercial property could have commanded up to €50,000 in rent per year during the economic boom, are now offering to let the premises for free.

According to the report, the property is available for free until whoever occupies it sees their business starting to make money. The property owners will also be available to mentor, advise and help any interested parties who come on board.

According to one of the owners: "We are reaching out to those people who might have lost their job recently or who have a business idea or a plan. We want the place filled and we are open to all suggestions."

The businessmen have drawn up a list of ideas for possible tenants, including a pizzeria, a toy recycling business, an eco-coffin wholesaler, a cut-price butchers', a wedding dress-hire shop or a casino.

Obviously a lot of businesses and property owners are feeling the pinch during the recession. Is it a case of innovate to survive for many?

Friday, 27 November 2009

NVTV Blogtalk NI Episode 6

Blogtalk (episode 6) from Northern Visions/NvTv on Vimeo.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being invited back to be a panellist of NVTV's 'Blogtalk NI' programme. Obviously the cameras didn't break the last time I was on. On this week's show Belfast Media Group boss Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole fame were my fellow contributors.

I spoke about the SDLP leadership race, Máirtín commented on how the mainstream media cover Troubles-related stories, and Mick spoke about Northern Ireland being treated differently by Ofcom from other parts of the UK in terms of media funding.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

CIPR PRide Awards Northern Ireland 2009

Last night I was delighted to attend the CIPR PRide Awards at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. The night was made even better when we won the Award for Public Affairs for managing last year's Energy Saving Week for the Energy Saving Trust in Northern Ireland. Below are the results from the evening.

Corporate and Business Communications


  • MCE Public Relations, "Optimise your cash" roadshow with Northern Bank Communications Team
    The judges were impressed with the entry’s handling of a difficult topic and one, in this economy, which would help support businesses to track cash flow in real time. The clear planning, coupled with the carefully thought out implementation, ensured that the objectives of the campaign were met. The judges were particularly impressed with the creativity of the campaign and the breadth of the tactics.


  • JPR, Ulster: Earning trust by communicating support for customers


  • Irish News, Workplace & Employment Awards
  • Morrow Communications, Northern Ireland Science Park: 10 Years On



  • Ulster Cancer Foundation, Personal Everest Project
    The judges were impressed with the results that this campaign delivered, ensuring that the Personal Everest Project raised its demanding target of £75,000, given such few resources. The judges considered the strength of this programme to be its well structured media relations programme, which proved to be extremely cost effectiveness.


  • Barnardo's Northern Ireland, Barnardo's NI Fostering Week


  • LJK Communications, Time to Deliver

Internal Communications


  • Northern Ireland Water, One Team ET Visibility
    This comprehensive programme to enhance communication and visibility of the executive management team among a widely diverse workforce was well conceived, structured and executed. Senior management participated fully in seeking to create a new sense of identity and corporate involvement, ranging from regular face-to-face meetings, to Q&A sessions and team working days. The initial environment was sometimes challenging. Innovation included a Chairman’s blog dealing with issues and corporate priorities. An independent analysis testifies to the effectiveness of this ongoing programme.


  • Northern Ireland Water, InTouch

Crisis Communications


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland Armed Forces Homecoming Parade
    This campaign achieved its overall objectives in a very fast-moving situation and under extremely difficult and volatile conditions. Lots of other voices were clamouring to be heard and the Police Service did well in reassuring the public and calming the situation.
    This was a well managed crisis communications plan, which covered all bases, some of which eventually were not needed.

Measurement and Evaluation


  • Aiken PR, BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition
    The measurement and evaluation category, new in this year’s PRide Awards, is very important and this entry has clearly demonstrated rigorous planning, robust research and detailed evaluation. The initial desk research benchmarked the situation and allowed Aiken PR to prepare the entire campaign. The results against the objectives of the campaign were all met within the budget parameters.

Community Relations


  • Smarts, 'At the Interface' Suffolk & Lenadoon Interface Group
    The judges were very impressed with the intense community focus of this campaign, particularly in the backdrop of the sensitive area of sectarian relationships. It drew together activities in which both groups within a small housing development could find common ground. Execution demanded a high degree of awareness around issues of intercommunity conflict. An effective media relations programme generated positive coverage. Concrete results were witnessed in the local activities, such as football matches, where the two communities met and interacted peacefully.


  • Northern Bank, Moneyville - Bringing money management to life for young children


  • Strategic Planning, Mayfield Garden Village Community Relations

Public Affairs


  • Stratagem (NI) Ltd, Stratagem fuels energy saving week success
    This was a well planned and executed programme that communicated the energy saving message to a wide number of stakeholders and audiences. Using members of the Northern Ireland Parliament proved a highly effective means of communicating to and engaging with consumers. An impressive amount of media coverage was secured across national and local media in Northern Ireland, and created a high degree of brand recognition for the Energy Saving Trust and its work.

Public Sector


  • Translink, Translink NI Railways Londonderry Line Upgrade
    This was a well thought through consumer programme to inform and prepare local communities about rail service disruption during upgrading work. The outcomes showed Translink to be a responsible organisation which communicated with all stakeholders, including distributing 85,000 new timetables to homes near the rail lines.
    As a result, at the end of the 13 week upgrade programme, no complaints had been received by the Customer Services Department and no compensation paid.


  • NICCY, Hear The Cry of Youth


  • Big Lottery Fund, Big thinking consultation - something big is happening in NI
  • JPR/ NI Financial Capability Partnership, Money Week 2008

Best campaign £10k and under


  • Morrow Communications, Dale Farm 'Dromona - the big cheese'
    The judges were particularly impressed by the creativity behind this campaign, using the product to make life-sized sculptures of high profile politicians. The objectives were clear, and the planning and execution were delivered in a timely fashion. A raft of opportunities were arranged to get the cheese in front of the wider audience, including flyers, online promotions, competitions, stands at exhibitions, and joint promotions with established and trusted retailers. The outcome was a record number of visitors to the stand, and excellent broadcast and media coverage, including on-line. This was a well thought out campaign, delivered on a limited budget.


  • Aiken PR, Beef Week 2009


  • Aiken PR, The Show Will Go On
  • Converse Communications, Foyle Fashion Week
  • Northern Ireland Water, Bag It and Bin It

Consumer Relations


  • Morrow Communications, Flahavan's - Back to Porridge!
    The judges unanimously awarded the gold to Morrow Communications for a well planned, implemented and evaluated campaign, which raised brand awareness, encouraged product trial and grew market share. Strong research, well thought out strategic partnerships and a creative approach to promoting the product ensured the campaign had credibility and secured regular coverage in the time frame set. This was a leader of the pack in terms of strategy and tactical implementation.


  • Smarts, Captain Morgan TV


  • Asitis Consulting, AVOCA: Launch of the brand in Northern Ireland
  • Smarts, The Bushmills Trek

Best Use of Media Relations


  • Weber Shandwick, Electoral Commission Register to Vote Campaign
    This was a superb campaign which really thought about what journalists would need and how they would like information presented in the run up to the European parliamentary elections. What can be regarded as a rather dry subject was transformed into a compelling campaign which utilised stunts, strong imagery, digital and online activity to drive home key messages and achieve the all important call to action. A very well implemented campaign that impressed the judges through its thorough and creative nature.


  • MCE Public Relations, Northern Bank Moneyville


  • JPR, Ulster: Ensuring trust by communicating support for customers
  • Morrow Communications, "Have Translink Smartpass: Will Travel"

Integrated Communications


  • Belfast City Council, Waste Week
    JPR submitted a very strong entry for Ulster Bank, which communicated a very positive image for the business at a time when the banking sector is experiencing real reputational threat. JPR turned the current negativity to advantage, using it to underpin the fact that the Bank stands for positive values – generating significant amounts of coverage and creating lots of positive ambassadors, which is no mean feat.


  • Northern Bank, Moneyville - Supporting financial confidence and awareness for children


  • Cactus PR & Communications, The Wedding Journal Show
  • Morrow Communications, SPC - Fasttracking ICT Careers

Corporate Responsibility


  • Weber Shandwick Northern Ireland, Rushmere Uganda Schools Project 2009
    Rushmere’s Uganda Schools project is an excellent example of a cost-effective CSR initiative that engages an entire community. The judges were impressed by the way the campaign used online and social media to gain momentum, culminating in a week-long school building blitz. Weber Shandwick should be commended for achieving high profile support from sports stars and local celebrities at no additional cost, and indeed for delivering such fantastic results with minimal spend.


  • Aiken PR, Active Lifestyles: McDonald's Grassroots Football Programme


  • Morrow Communications, Deloitte: Sharing our skills with our communityNorthern Bank Ltd, Northern Builds More Than Bricks and Mortar
  • Smarts, LIDL Fit Factor Challenge

Best Use of Social Media


  • Morrow Communications, NISP: Building an Innovation Ecosystem
    Morrow Communications campaign used a variety of social media to connect with stakeholders, develop advocates and increase awareness of and attendance at events.
    Web streaming, social networking sites and podcasts were used effectively to increase reach, and it was good to see a focus on search engine optimisation that was lacking in other submissions.A well deserving winner.


  • Smarts, The Bushmills Trek


  • NICCY, Young People Talking To Young People
  • Smarts, Captain Morgan TV

Best Use of Photography or Design


  • Cathy Martin PR (CMPR), Strike a pose: Striking Photography from Fashion Week
    The judges were incredibly impressed with the striking images produced by Cathy Martin PR to support Belfast Fashion Week. The fact that they received widespread coverage was testament to Cathy Martin’s in-depth understanding of the needs of its target media. Cathy Martin’s portfolio also reflects the aspirations and interests of their key audience. A stunning set of images created with an eye on costs for maximum exposure.

    View the case study: Currently unavailable


  • Carlton Baxter Communications, Enchanted Aisle Photo Shoot, Willow Moon


  • MX Brandcom, Friendly Saxophones
  • Weber Shandwick Ltd, Electoral Commission Register to Vote Week

Best Newspaper or Magazine


  • Big Lottery Fund, Big Magazine - How lottery money is transforming lives
    The handbag sized publication, packed with human interest stories, was the judge’s unanimous choice for the gold award. It connects with readers very effectively, looked good and fulfilled all the objectives identified by the Big lottery Fund.
    Judges felt that Big magazine would not look out of place sitting on newspaper shelves alongside the like of Chat, Now or Woman.


  • Belfast City Council, City Matters


  • Banbridge District Council, The Cutting EdgeBelfast City Council, Intercom
  • Northern Ireland Water, Waterline

Best Publication


  • Belfast City Council, A to Z of Council Services
    The judges felt that Belfast City Council took an innovative approach to creating the A-Z guide and succeeded in making it deliver much more value to the residents as a result.
    Colour and photography were used to great effect, and the lay-out was clean and easy to follow. The council deployed superb skills in conveying corporate messages in a positive and engaging manner, and the fact that this guide is funded solely by advertising is to be applauded.


  • Strategic Planning, "Extending your horizons"


  • NICCY, News To You From UsPolice Service of Northern Ireland, The Chief Constable's Annual Report 2008/2009
  • Stakeholder Communications, Annual Report & Financial Statements Parades Commission for Northern Ireland

Best Leaflet


  • Belfast City Council, Essential Information If There is Flooding in Belfast
    This leaflet, with its useful fold-up format, is very resident focused. It is very clear and contains all the pertinent information that they need in the event of an emergency. Folding down to wallet size increases the chances of residents retaining the information. Including it in an existing magazine, alongside a flooding feature, ensured it reached target audiences at no additional cost.

Best Website or Microsite


  • Belfast Zoo, Belfast Zoological Gardens Website
    Belfast Zoo is to be congratulated on an appealing, informative and extremely successful website. Thorough research and careful planning ensured that it meets the demands of its target audience, driving traffic to the site and raising awareness of the brand. The judges particularly liked the interactive focus, which enables the zoo to engage effectively with its stakeholders. A superb submission and a very worthy winner. Well done.


  • Northern Ireland Water, 'What Are You Doing With Water'


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland's Website

Best Event


  • Core Communications, The Giant HSBC Lions Shirt - Northern Ireland's Least Contentious Parade
    Northern Ireland’s least contentious parade shows how drive and determination can deliver a headline grabbing campaign within a tight budget. Jennifer Maguire of Core Communications is to be congratulated for planning and executing an innovative initiative, that combined PR coverage and community relations, to put her client’s brand in front of more than 1.6 million people. The judges were extremely impressed with the way in which problems were overcome and the unique approach Jennifer took towards meeting her brief. A worthy winner – well done.


  • Belfast City Council, Making a Difference (MAD) Awards


  • Big Lottery Fund, Stormont Youth Achievers Event
  • Morrow Communications, Challenges & Opportunities: The Credit Crunch
  • Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Showcasing Northern Ireland
  • Northern Ireland Water, Water is Life

Outstanding Young Communicator


  • Simon Little, Phoenix Natural Gas


  • Coca-Cola HBC Northern Ireland, Zoe Cunningham
  • LJK Communications, Angela Stevenson
  • Smarts, Selina McElwee

Outstanding Small Consultancy


  • Cactus PR & Communications, Small But Perfectly Formed
    Julie McCabe, head of Cactus PR & Communications, leads her team to work together as a professional and comprehensive unit that provides tailored solutions that really deliver commercial value to clients throughout Northern Ireland. The consultancy’s unambiguous business objectives have helped to ensure the business has maintained strong annual growth, as well as healthy profitability.

Outstanding In-House Public Relations Team


  • NICCY, One Team, One Mission, Children's Rights
    The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has one mission: children’s rights. The judges were very impressed with their entry document, of which the concluding paragraph of was: We’re a small team; we’re at the heart of the organisation; we’re confident professionals; but at all times our job is to make sure we can achieve real change for children and young people.


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland in the International Spotlight


  • Northern Ireland Water, NI Water Outstanding PR Team

Outstanding Public Relations Consultancy


  • LJK Communications, None of us are as strong as all of us
    Supported by an impressive range of client testimonials, LJK Communications are worthy winners of Gold. Their enviable client list ranges from international corporate groups to high street names, and public sector bodies to charities. LJK has excelled in growing a full service consultancy, which moved to new purpose-built offices in 2008. Their new website, which reflects the company’s progress, is one of the most comprehensive in Northern Ireland.


  • Smarts


Aiken PR

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Slugger O'Toole Political Awards 2009

Last year saw the inaugural Slugger O’Toole Political Awards (or the ‘Sluggers’ as they seem to have become known in many quarters over the past few days) arrive on the political scene in Northern Ireland. Tomorrow they’ll be here again, with the event taking place in the Black Box in Belfast.

The Slugger Awards mark something different in politics here. It’s fair enough to take a pop at politicians on issues like double-jobbing and expenses claims when it’s justified, but there is a good many public representatives out there who expend a considerable amount of effort in providing a decent public service, and recognising this is what the Sluggers are about.

It’s also about encouraging debate on current affairs and politics here. For years political discourse went around in circles and was caught in a stasis on account of there being no ‘real’ politics here. However, the advent of peace and normalisation, coupled with the opportunities afforded by the internet to discuss issues in an open forum, has enabled people who never would have spoken before to share their views on sites such as Slugger O’Toole. And now the Sluggers take it to the next level with a tangible event which brings all this together.

Tickets for the Awards sold out extremely quickly, and when extra ones were released, they were snapped up too. I'll be down at the Awards ceremony tomorrow in an official capacity, but it'll be great to see so many people from a range of backgrounds coming together to celebrate good politics.

Things may not be perfect here yet, and indeed, there isn’t really any such thing as political perfection. However, the fact that the Slugger O’Toole Political Awards can take place at all is a testament to how far we’ve come.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ireland was Robbed!

In an act of gross unfairness last night, the Republic of Ireland team was cruelly robbed of a change of participating in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, thanks to the hand of Thierry Henry.

Even the French know it was a travesty of justice- Henry has admitted to handling the ball, and 88.% of the nearly 60,000 people who have voted in a poll on the French newspaper website for Le Monde newspaper agree that Ireland deserved more.

There are only two options for the Irish team to receive natural justice. For there to be a reply, as Liam Brady has suggested, or for an exception to be made with the Republic of Ireland being given an additional place at the World Cup. I won't be holding out much hope for either though, given the record of the international footballing authorities.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hurling on CSI: NY and Captain Planet in Belfast

A couple of videos to enjoy. I hadn't actually come across the former until I noticed it mentioned in Gerry Lynch's Facebook feed, but when I watched it, it reminded me of the latter...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

NVTV Blogtalk NI Episode 3

Blogtalk (Episode 3) from Northern Visions on Vimeo.

I was delighted this week to be able to participate in an episode of NVTV's Blogtalk NI programme in Belfast. They've a good set up down there at NVTV and Carl Boyle does a great job pulling the show together.

This episode focuses on big news stories that have been across blogs lately. My fellow panelists were Conall McDevitt and Owen Polley. The issues we discussed included the Ulster Unionist/ Conservative alliance, the 'No Pope Here' campaign on Facebook and 'Gatelygate'- the furore over the Jan Moir Daily Mail article on the demise of Stephen Gately.

Feedback welcome!

Monday, 26 October 2009

General Election 2010- Interesting Times Ahead

In recent years, pretty much since 2001 in fact, the results of general elections have been fairly predictable in Northern Ireland. The DUP and Sinn Féin dominate with the SDLP maintaining its seats in its strongholds (with the surprise addition of South Belfast in 2005) and the UUP playing second-fiddle in the unionist camp (quite spectacularly in 2005).

A year ago, it would have been fair to predict that the status quo would be maintained in the next election, but since then things have changed considerably, particularly in the unionist camp. With the DUP going into government with Sinn Féin, a considerable flank of their position has been left open to attack from traditionalists such as Jim Allister. At one point there was talk of the DUP running two candidates in the European elections, but thanks to the TUV they came in under quota to take their third seat with a sole candidate.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists have resurrected their link with a resurgent Tory party. While the story of the European election was the problems faced by the DUP rather than the UUP/ Conservatives maintaining Jim Nicholson's position, the next general election will be a much bigger experiment by the 'New Force'.

In recent weeks the DUP has made several suggestions about unionist pacts in South Belfast and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone. However, with the Ulster Unionists arguing that the DUP has no right to be bargaining on these constituencies given that it has never held either seat, and with intra-unionist bad blood apparently still as toxic as ever, it appears that no deal is on the horizon.

Elsewhere, Jim Allister has indicated that he will run in North Antrim, seeking to take a seat held by the DUP since 1970. Will Ian Paisley run again, or will his son or perhaps Education Committee Chair Mervyn Storey fancy a shot at it?

Within nationalism, a soon-to-be-retired SDLP leader Mark Durkan will be seeking to cement his place as the Foyle MP, and South Down stalwart Eddie McGrady is running again. Alasdair McDonnell will hope that a continued unionist split and the benefits of incumbency will see him home again in South Belfast. Elsewhere, Sinn Féin will be aiming for business as usual.

Regardless of the results, the run up to the forthcoming general election alone will be intriguing. How things pan out as the ballot papers are counted will be another issue entirely.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Got £1.1 million dollars handy?

If you do, you could get your mitts on a Microsoft Xbox 360 signed by none other than former Alaskan governor and failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Apparently someone successfully bid this amount previously, but PayPal couldn't handle such a large transaction, so it fell through. It would be worrying though if someone did lay down such a large amount of cash this time around for a basic piece of electronic gadgetry, as I would hope that a family member would step in if someone had lost their faculties to the extent that they would fork out such an enormous sum for what is frankly a piece of rubbish.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lisbon and Cóir: When Parody becomes Reality

Given that much of the publicity material being put out in the south by anti-Lisbon group Cóir is little more than a joke, it was only a metter of time before someone actually did make a joke of it.

Now an eagle-eyed David Cochrane of fame has spotted a mishap by the Evening Herald whereby they ran a parody of a Cóir poster as if it was an actual piece of literature produced by the group.

As David says: "Funny, yes, but also a lesson in that Cóir posters are so easy to parody, it’s difficult to tell which posters belong to them, and which are a piss-take."

However, it does raise a potential issue that there may be many voters don't realise how ridulous Cóir's actual claims are.