Letters to the Editor

Tony Blair would be good fit for Sinn Féin at next election to Dáil

Fascinating to read the flurry of commentary and advice for unionism from distinguished political observers, such as Chris Donnelly and Tom Kelly (July 5). In its centenary year unionism has had seven party leaders: Billy Hutchinson of the PUP, Jim Allister of the TUV, Steve Aiken and Doug Beattie of the UUP, and Arlene Foster, Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP. The year is still young, and there may still be more to come.

My guess is that most historians of the 21st century will await the outcome of the May 2022 elections to the NI Assembly and choose to analyse this in relation to data from the recent census before they make public pronouncements.

As this is the silly season and perhaps in light of the above observation it could be dubbed the silly centenary, allow a ‘cultural unionist’ to send some commentary and advice in the other direction.

There has been some speculation in the British media that former prime minister Tony Blair may be planning another challenge for that role given the horrendous polling of the Labour Party in Great Britain.

It could be argued that he would be a good fit for Sinn Féin in the Republic.

Sinn Féin will already know which seats they can win in the next elections to Dáil Éireann, which are possible, and those that are highly unlikely or unwinnable.

There are potential benefits for both Sinn Féin and Tony Blair.

The attraction of a candidate like Tony Blair for Sinn Féin is that he could win an unwinnable seat due to his unique characteristics, and in doing so would remove an opposition candidate from their tally.

As a key figure in negotiating the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998 (GFBA) there is a well of good will that can be tapped. As probably the most successful Labour leader of all time, he successfully tapped in to the centre left and made it his own, and, together with Gordon Brown and other ministers, he introduced many radical policies that transformed British politics.

Even as an adviser to Sinn Féin he would be invaluable, but as a candidate he could enter the Irish government to provide unique input. Arguably, his greatest effect could be in the EU. For Tony Blair the latter must be an attractive option for a politician of his stature.

Switching to Irish politics shouldn’t be a problem, given his maternal grandparents are from Donegal.

The Iraq War controversy should not be a problem for a political party that has itself wrestled with difficult real politik situations of its own.

And who better to conduct a review of the GFBA? Mightn’t be such a crazy idea after all?

Belfast BT9


Wasted talent

I ‘subbed’ at one particular school for seven months. During my time there, I developed excellent relationships with the staff and pupils. The children would often ask if I’d teach them again.

When a permanent job became available I applied with naïve optimism, as did the other temporary teachers (some of whom had been there for years). The job required one year’s experience. Surely one of us would be chosen? Wrong.

None of us were invited to the interview stage. I was stunned.

I later heard that the selection panel had enhanced the criteria to 12 years when deciding who to interview.

It is not uncommon to hear of young teachers trapped in temporary positions for 10 years or more. They drift from class to class, school to school, painfully aware of their unused potential.

In Northern Ireland we should not be surprised to find ourselves with a weak economy when we allow talent to be wasted – as is happening in the field of education.

I do not claim to have all the answers, but I will give one suggestion.

The boards of governors of NI schools (or the selection panels) should stop judging candidates primarily on years of experience. While this is an important factor, the law of diminishing returns applies – a teacher gains a vast wealth of skills and experience in their first year as they master the basics.

But by their fourth year the gain is comparatively small because they have [hopefully] established an effective style of teaching. The potential for improvement gets progressively lower.

Judging candidates solely on years of experience is a crude measure of a candidate’s ability and it has resulted in excellent teachers being rejected for permanent positions.

There are many other criteria which a selection panel could focus on: Is the candidate intelligent? Does the candidate have a good sense of humour? Is the candidate a good role model for our children?

I’m not saying that experience isn’t important. It is. But any experience beyond four years isn’t as significant as some seem to believe.

Belfast BT11


SDLP was cheerleader for Dublin and London

I agree with Sean O’Fiach’s critique of the SDLP in The Irish News (June 11). The SDLP was never a nationalist party nor did it ever represent the interests of nationalists. Led by John Hume, it was a cheerleader for the Dublin and London governments, condemning republicans at every opportunity.

The Irish American lobby was very powerful and influential and the two governments were acutely aware of this. They needed to control the narrative to fit their agenda. Mr Hume, having the ear of this powerful lobby, was influential in helping bring this about. The Anglo-Irish agreement was a quid pro quo to shore up the SDLP and make sure nationalists remained disenfranchised.

I never thought I would see the day Senator Edward Kennedy would sit at Stormont giving his blessing to British rule in Ireland or the queen being wined and dined in Dublin at the taxpayer’s expense. Mr Hume’s finest achievement.

Omagh, Co Tyrone


A long holiday far away would do Nolan good

Yes, I agree with Francis Rice (June 17) it is time to take Nolan off the airwaves.

Mr Nolan's coverage of the Bobby Storey funeral was tiresome.

Having to listen to Mr Allister, Mr Bryson and Mr Wells sing the same old rant, Nolan, I think, even got fed up. Mr Nolan has a different voice and approach on BBC Radio 5 Live, where he knows he would not get away with the same loud approach. Maybe a long holiday far away would do him good.

Cookstown, Co Tyrone


Church doctrine

Tom Collins’s  attack on the integrity of Catholic archbishops and bishops in the US (July 1) is both misconceived and disappointing.

One of the most important responsibilities of Catholic archbishops and bishops throughout the world is to uphold, even in the most difficult of circumstances, the doctrines of the Church. And the most crucial doctrine is that on the Eucharist.

Blackrock, Co Dublin

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