Letters to the Editor

Privilege of holding public office appears to be gift of political parties

Political parties are now in election mode. This is the time when parties announce new candidates.

The latest announcement from Sinn Féin is that Fra McCann will be replaced by Aisling Reilly, described as a dedicated Sinn Féin activist, who has worked closely with Paul Maskey in developing west Belfast, has worked in the Sinn Féin press office, “a community activist who is in ingrained in the community”.

Joe Austin, a renowned, lifelong and dedicated member of Sinn Féin in May this year interviewed Aisling as part of his Scealta series that can be viewed online. He traced Aisling’s sporting prowess, a double world champion handball player. The interview followed her unwavering self-sacrifice and dedication to the sport including forgoing a third-level education to devote all of her energy and time to it. In May Aisling declared that her focus for the next year and a half was to concentrate on trying to achieve a third world championship. Yet, in five months this persona of a single-minded, devoted sports personality changed to a dedicated, selfless, Sinn Féin and community activist.

The only reference to politics during the whole interview was when Joe referred to a letter that 3,000 Antrim Gaels had sent to Micheál Martin asking for a Citizens Forum to be set up to discuss the shape of a united Ireland that Aisling signed. Aisling’s co-option to the assembly will mean that more than a quarter of that assembly, and almost half of Sinn Féin’s assembly members will be unelected. One is the minister for communities, with executive responsibility. In Foyle it is even worse, where since the last assembly election Raymond McCartney was replaced by Martina Anderson who herself was replaced 18 months later. The scale of assembly members who have never been before the electorate must represent a profound democratic deficit and this seems to be an acceptable practice by almost all assembly parties, none more than Sinn Féin.

The system must rely on the premise that the electorate votes for the party, no matter who the candidate is and to take that a step further, it matters not who the assembly members are, nor the qualities, attributes or experience they have. Still further, it means that the taxpayer really has no say in who is funded to fill these posts.

“To hold public office is an immense privilege,” Michelle O’Neill declared – but seemingly that privilege appears to be the gift of political parties rather than the electorate.

Belfast BT11


Unionist people have right to know

Have I got this right? Ian Paisley says he was told by Boris Johnston that he always intended to remove the Northern Ireland Protocol? The timing of this revelation matters.

When ordinary unionists were being alarmed by rumours about the damage an Irish Sea border could do, when they took part in protest marches, did Paisley know this was a waste of time because there was always a plan to remove the protocol?  When loyalist youths were rioting on our streets, risking their lives and those of our police, could Ian Paisley have stepped forward and stopped this by revealing his secret information?

Mr Paisley's comments on Newsnight (October 13) imply that he knew of Boris Johnson’s intention before the election. This is serious.

It means that Ian Paisley knew Boris was fighting an election campaign based on deceit. He knew that Brexit was not an oven-ready deal, but kept quiet. Even worse, he seems to have kept this information to himself for months, as the DUP whipped up hysteria about an Irish Sea border, as workers in Larne worried about their safety, as riots took place on our streets and young people got criminal records.

Did Mr Paisley share this information with his party leaders, with Edwin Poots or Jeffrey Donaldson?

When Jeffrey made his threat to pull out DUP ministers and bring down Stormont did Jeffrey know that a promise had already been made, that his threat could be made without consequences?

Was this all just a clever ploy to ensure the DUP did well in the next election and retained their place as the largest unionist party?

Or perhaps Ian has been keeping this information secret from his party leader.

The unionist people have a right to know.

Belfast BT6


Unresolved political problems

Both partition and creation of the NI state represent unresolved structural injustices to nationalists and republicans. By suggesting that these injustices and their attendant hurts are ‘in the past’ is, in itself, adopting a political position. Admittedly, it is a view held by many who saw the Good Friday Agreement as a final settlement rather than as offering a peaceful pathway towards a final settlement.

The controversy raises an interesting question – is reconciliation possible in the context of continued structural injustice? For example, could we have imagined the South African reconciliation process proceeding without the dismantling of the apartheid system? And is it just possible that the most we can hope for on this side of our unresolved political problems is that the common decency of people can be harnessed to confront those within political unionism that seem determined to keep us locked within an iniquitous and intolerant Neverland, a Neverland that saw its birth in partition and the creation of the NI state. The carnival of reaction that James Connolly predicted in both parts of a partitioned Ireland is, unfortunately, still a reality in the failed political entity that is Northern Ireland.

Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh


GAA congress is moment for true debate

This weekend Congress is a time to pause and reset the GAA. The only important currencies in a unique and essentially community organisation like the GAA are those of authenticity and identity.

Yet we have stood by while billionaire sponsors have guaranteed All-Ireland wins for the county of their choosing – in both football and hurling. We have averted our gaze from the relentless erosion of the amateur ethos. And now in Special Congress we contemplate meddling in the elemental alignment of club, county, province and national competition.

To suggest removal of the status of the provincial championships as feeder competitions to the All-Ireland series is a Rubicon moment that reveals a misunderstanding of how we identify most profoundly through place – and to underestimate the domino effects that are sure to follow for the GAA. It’s never too late to reinstate and realise the full potential of the best amateur organisation in the world. First, we must be authentic and principled in our actions. Of all years this congress is a moment to pause for thought and true debate on the nature and substance of the GAA, and how it should be protected. Change is needed but not the change being considered.

Dunmurry, Co Antrim

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Letters to the Editor