Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Northern Ireland European Parliament Elections 2009

This Thursday 4th June, will see voters in Northern Ireland take to their local polling stations to vote on who they would like to see represent them in the European Parliament. With a nice pay check and a hefty set of expenses at their disposal, 3 of the 7 candidates will be handed the confirmation to catch what probably isn’t a budget airline flight to mainland Europe. So, is it likely to be the usual ‘give my head peace’ politics launching the folks from the ‘show me the money hill’ on their way to Strasbourg and Brussels?

At a time when I should be more concerned about where I’m going to be trying to get hold of my suit for the wedding, getting hold of everyone to sort out travel arrangements and hotel stays and other important wedding things - I find myself dwelling on the ins and outs of this week’s election.

If the results go as per the history books, then thankfully from my point of view, the 3 representatives will be diluted... sorry... joining 733 others in representing 492 million people across Europe in the European Parliament. Their mission should they not opt to refuse it - to join forces with other major and minor political groups of the parliament and to use their combined skills to analyze, amend and draft EU legislation and directives - preferably in a way that will not only benefit the whole of Europe but also Northern Ireland.

So leading into the election and with propaganda hung from every lamppost and posted through every door, here are the candidates and my take from what little of their campaigning I’ve had chance to look at and their appearance on Sundays Politics show (a great watch for anyone who wants to see why we’ve a problem when it comes to politics in Northern Ireland):

First up are the 3 current MEP’s:

Bairbre de Brún - Sinn Féin

Campaign slogan: ‘Putting Ireland First’

Summary of campaign literature received:

The slogan pretty much sums up all that is attempted to be put across. The rest of the flier fails on so many levels. As with an awful lot of the candidates and as we sadly come to expect with party politics in Northern Ireland the reality is that the nationalist/unionist divisions in society dictate pretty much all political life and this election is no different. Apart from mentioning ‘developing a new working relationship with the EU’, no summary of her actual performance in the role has been included. In fact the party name is the only reference to whose opinions are being expressed within the text. A very basic campaign with a message aimed directly to a divisional representation of the population of Northern Ireland as a whole. A reminder more than a message, aimed towards maintaining a percentage of the vote that will see re-election.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

Calm and collected, although she didn’t have to say much as her main rivals to top the poll were arguing between themselves. Still unsure if she would best represent me or anyone I know (from either side of the political fence in N.I) in Europe.

Conclusion: Hard to conclude anything as I don’t have a clue how she has done nor do I know what she will focus on in European issues other than Irish Unity and the usual reference to jobs, education etc, though beyond a mention I don’t know her stance.

Jim Allister - Traditional Unionist Voice

Campaign slogan: “The one they want out!”

Summary of campaign literature received:

This slogan as you might expect sets the scene for material that I wouldn’t be shocked to see too far out of place on a ‘need a loan, then call...” advert, when someone introduces themselves as being wanted out by a majority there is often usually a reason. The first page sums up the rest of his campaign which is “keeping unionism ahead” and “resisting Sinn Fein”. The only redeeming feature of the material is the fact they tried to put in a bit of information trying to prove his record as an MEP. Sadly a table with the amount of speeches, written and oral questions by the 3 MEP’s doesn’t mean very much other than he likes to question, speak up and argue.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

Going by his performance the quantity of queries raised as an MEP might not have been of much quality. He did speak up about the problem of Politian’s holding multiple full time roles such as being an MLA and an MP etc. However, apart from the odd point questioning the problems that are blatantly evident with politics at the moment he was very opinionated, loud and spoke over people. His views were entirely polarised to the unionist viewpoint and he showed he had little concern for anyone else’s opinion on anything.

Conclusion: No offence to the guy but I think I’m one of the ‘they’ mentioned in the campaign slogan of his fliers. Like UKIP or the BNP in England, he’s campaigning for a vote of a division of a divided society. The message is consistent but only in its negativity. I really do wonder what MEP’s from places like France and Germany etc think of him and how that reflects upon N.I.

Jim Nicholson - Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force

Campaign slogan: “It’s time for change”

Summary of campaign literature received:

A negative campaign is sprawled over the first page attacking the Labour Party and Gordon Brown, no change as far as the Tories go anyway! The second page has the scary sight of David Cameron. Sadly this is one of the most sensible (to regular politics) of campaigns and although being heavily swung by the tail of the Conservative party at least its giving a view point with policies to match that aren’t too tied up in the same old divisions. The funny thing is that he already is an MEP, so why the emphasis on change? I can’t see Jim Nicholson wanting to seem in two minds about his politics so I’m guessing this election is being used as a re-branding exercise by the conservatives in their attempt to find a foothold in Northern Ireland.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

A straight answer? Sure, by the time he’s published his expenses it seems he might have been briefed on Tory rhetoric and be able to push that instead of struggling to answer a simple question. At least he’s trying to live up to the conservative form book already. Saying that he wasn’t too bad compared to some of the other candidates in the rest of the debate.

Conclusion: Not great and policies that most certainly are not my cup of tea though at least they’ve expanded away from single issue politics. The plus points would be a new approach and a more conventional and mainstream message even if it’s debateable whether in this current political climate any trust in the candidate can be maintained.

Diane Dodds – Democratic Unionist

Campaign slogan: “Strong leadership in challenging times”

Summary of campaign literature received:

Again, another candidate playing on the divisions of society rather than on issues concerning EVERYONE in Northern Ireland. A whole leaflet dedicated to one issue, trying to win a vote through playing on a fear of a community. Emotive language and statements designed to keep the old wounds open and the votes rolling in. The sad thing is I’m sure there must be some members of the DUP who have policies and ideas that might help bring prosperity and cohesion to Northern Ireland through work in Europe but sadly the electorate won’t have a clue on the basis of this material. Also not once in the campaign material is Diane Dodds full name mentioned, she is referred to only as Dodds. An oversight? Or possibly aiming to win a few votes by confused voters who recognise the family name?

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

Along with Jim Allister, Diane Dodds was loud and lost her cool far too easily, I still don’t know hardly a thing about what she would bring to the role in Europe except possibly the desire to argue. I wouldn’t want the job of Public Relations officer within the DUP that’s for sure. A huge focus on too small a minority of issues.

Conclusion: I don’t think I can add anything else.

Alban Maginness - Social Democratic and Labour

Campaign slogan: “When we win, You win”

Summary of campaign literature received:

A quite positive and well presented flier that has been put together by someone in the know about marketing. The material is sensible and sticks to many of the key issues on actually choosing a candidate for the role they are going to fulfil. Within what I’ve read, not once was Unionism, Nationalism or Republicanism mentioned. I know of the history of the party but without any prior background knowledge, from the material I received, I would not know the stance of the party towards anything other than their candidate and Europe. In my eyes it’s quite refreshing given some of the other candidates’ material. One flaw seems to be in the focus on being the only ‘major’ party to be Pro-European as the Alliance party also holds that standing and the generalisation of the message being portrayed.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

Well spoken and quite reserved, he came across well. Again as with any of the candidates the majority of the debate was focused on the DUP/TUV arguing so it was only a brief introduction if judging solely from this year’s election materials and press.

Conclusion: Not bad, if indeed Alban Maginness can back up his words and truly represent the whole of Northern Ireland, then for the persona being delivered by what I’ve seen he would make a good candidate.

Steve Agnew – Green Party

Campaign slogan: “for a green new deal”

Summary of campaign literature received:

The leaflet is very short, just 3 paragraphs of text and only mentions jobs, fuel poverty and Climate change. To give a bit of credit though, a direct contact address is prominent and so maybe it’s possible if anyone has the time to contact Steve and ask on his stance towards other issues. Still, its not great to decide whether to pick him as an MEP.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

He came across very well, I took a liking to him and he seems to have his head screwed on to what’s going on. Probably the most personable of the lot, again it was only a glimpse due to the domination of noise coming from further down the table.


Steve Agnew seems like someone who could do the job. Being a spokes person for the Northern Irish voice in Europe an MEP needs some charisma and likeability, some people are suited to this and some aren’t and I think he is. The only problem I have is that the Green party seem to portray too narrow a focus in their press. If though his and the Green party's other stances are realistic, then he would appear to be a good candidate. From this campaign though, I doubt the message is clear enough as to what a Green party vote (other than on Green Issues) is actually going to bring if successful. I don't feel environmental issues alone can encourage people to not vote along political lines that are still well embedded in the sand.

Ian James Parsley - Alliance

Campaign slogan: “Replace the politics of fear with the politics of hope”

Summary of campaign literature received:

The flier I received was a more conventional piece that is quite well presented. The text is well used and stays on topic referring to what I would see as an optimistic hope for the future with pledges and stances that I tend to personally agree with. A little fluffy around the edges maybe. Also there was little mention of a stance on the more rural issues northern Ireland faces, but other than that it seems fairly sound.

Performance on the politics show from Queens University:

He sounds like Ben from the current series of the apprentice! Thankfully he didn’t come across anything like him though. He focused his time keeping on topic and like Steve Agnew made for a pleasant change. Sticking to the questions asked and answering with straight answers, he did very well.

Conclusion: The Alliance party seems to share much of the Green party’s attitudes but with less of a narrow focus on purely the Environment. A positive campaign and one I suspect will not get as many votes as it deserves.

To add to this I just sat through each of the Candidates parties political broadcasts for this election. Here are some links:


To sum up what I see going into these European elections. There are 3 categories of campaigns/candidates;

a) Candidates who are just trying to ride their party line with the old faithful and self fulfilling prophecy of maintaining division to ensure you can fight for a side even when voting for MEP’s should be about selecting a candidate who will do their best for the whole of Northern Ireland and who are not solely focused on their own community at a local level.

Aka - Jim Allister, Bairbre de Brún and Diane Dodds

b) Candidates representing parties trying to steer away from the old formula without breaking too many ties to the sections of society for whom the division between Unionism and Nationalism are still likely to be key.

Aka - Alban Maginness and Jim Nicholson

c) Candidates representing themselves and their party in trying to address the issues we are all impacted by, no matter what side of the 'one policy' fence you might lean towards or which garden you fall into.

Aka - Ian Parsley and Steve Agnew

So the candidates have set out their stalls to us all and all that is left is to weigh up the options.

Personally I won’t be voting for party rhetoric or fear tactics so category a) candidates can wave my vote goodbye. This is the 21st century and my generation are very media aware. In my opinion, voting for a candidate who can’t speak for themselves as representatives of their party let alone as a representative of a country - and in a job where there is one seat per MEP - has no place heading to Europe to ensure a Northern Irish voice is heard. This also includes the new Conservative party in N.I who might as well be trying to convince us that when Jim eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs. Jim is Bananama...ermm... David Cameron!

Category b) candidates I would hope have a chance if it means not having any of those from a) being elected. At least these parties are taking a stance that focuses mainly on issues that those of us who aren't dwelling on the past but would like a bright future for our children as well as their friends. Sadly I don’t support many of either of the candidates’ main selling points. Conservatism no thanks! And I’d prefer to see candidates fully proven and dedicated to representing the common views of the majority in Northern Ireland rather than possibly still their niche.

So that leaves category c) and from these two I think Steve Agnew maybe falls under the category b) for the niche. So by process of elimination and because his party political broadcast also appealed to me most, my first preference will be heading the way of Ian Parsley.

In the end, although it is important, our choice is not going to influence Europe too greatly compared to how it would be with any of the other candidates. For instance I believe one of the key issues, the Lisbon treaty see’s most candidates agreeing, mainly on trying to get a referendum for it, so the people can decide. So the most interesting thing to me will be to see how the votes go in light of the campaigns run and the stances held.

As Nigel Dodds came to say in Diane Dodd’s broadcast, “don’t waste your vote on fringe candidates, make it count”, well to me the fringe is that of the future and not, as inferred, between parties who you’d like to vote for but are scared to because you wish to keep another party’s candidate out.

Maybe I am being a little naive but I do hope for change and a positive one to a different focus on political voting here. I doubt it will happen at this election but it will be interesting to see if there is a swing towards common sense and common goals meaning something. Hopefully positive and inclusive campaigning will be the winner.

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