‘The Máirtín Season has a problem – Gerry Kelly’s flyer’ by Brian Spencer

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Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is striking on many levels. Inimitable for his energy and ubiquity, online and offline. His personality for a politician is something off-norm. His mayoralty of Belfast set precedent after precedent, broke barriers and and brought a new prominence to the Office, and to himself of course. He is a business owner of considerable means and reach, with a network of contacts that spans the globe and pulls power and spend potential back to the northern capital.

Oh and he’s a Shinner too.

That’s what makes things difficult. Máirtín plays with your mind because he inverts every label, cliche and prejudice we apply to and expect of Sinn Fein.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir cartoon.jpg

I’m a placenta protestant and inherited the inviolable ordinance from family and peers that Sinn Fein were an irredeemable ill.

Yet this party that stands for “toxicity” is swaddled in popularity. There is an inconsistency, and so It would be Orwellian of me to denounce Sinn Fein without thought or explanation.

Sinn Fein has a sizeable mandate and many voters; a good few I know, who are altogether normal and civil, in contrast to the knee-top narrative. Because of my upbringing I always wondered, like this person, ‘Why Do Nice People Vote Sinn Féin?’

I still don’t totally understand the appeal of Sinn Fein, but I do understand that Sinn Fein appeal to many people. Irrespective of its dark underbelly, to all the world but hardline unionism Sinn Fein isn’t the IRA anymore. The propagandised parroting of “Sinn Fein-IRA” convinces nobody of anything but of the irrelevance of old-time unionism.

For many people Sinn Fein has nothing to do with violence but is a progressive party of the left, a bulwark against austerity.

Alex Kane in his profile of Máirtín captured contemporary Sinn Fein:

“Sinn Fein has changed and is continuing to change: and Mairtin O Muilleoir is a classic example of that change.”

Máirtín is Sinn Fein made acceptable to polite society. Down south they’ve said Mary Lou represents the middle-class wing of Sinn Fein.

But Mary Lou espouses more hard line, belligerent rhetoric; that the IRA were “decent people”, that IRA violence was “necessary” and that “maybe” she would have joined the IRA if the timing was better.

Máirtín has uttered Provo-like rhetoric in the past, but nowadays will dip and dive to keep conversation and questioning on message, which is of course: “change” and new politics. He’s scrupulously on-script.

Such is the package and value proposition of Máirtín that I was tempted, going against everything I’ve ever known, to vote Ó Muilleoir and give a vote to Sinn Fein. I’m not the only protestant born voter who feels affection for Máirtín, Peter Edgar and Neil Hutcheson said similar to May2015.

However this was all destroyed the moment my eyes touched sight of Gerry Kelly’s election leaflet.
Gerry Kelly cartoon.jpgI felt taken for a fool, naive and credulous. The media has allowed Sinn Fein to paint itself as uniquely equitable and free of sectarianism, and unionism as singularly regressive.

But it’s whatever gets the votes.

Glycerine civility and post-sectarian rhetoric in south Belfast.

Rasping electioneering and green-contra-orange posturing in north Belfast. In fact, transparent sectarianism and ethnicism.

The south Belfast insurgent has implicated himself twice in sectarianism.

Firstly, we all know about the Bonapartism of Sinn Fein, the top down rule that keeps everyone is on-message. So this sectarianism exhibited by the leaflet isn’t just Gerry Kelly’s but the party’s.

Secondly, what was worse than Sinn Fein conceit and hypocrisy between south and north Belfast was the fact that Máirtín’s paper held a full page spread of Kelly’s Green over Orange graphic. Talk of duplicity.

This is the cynical editorialisation of election messages, tailored to meet the palate of differing postcodes and social gradients.

In south Belfast I am politically orphaned by unionism and deceived by the bogus equality rhetoric of Sinn Fein.

Perhaps I’ll take the Alex Kane mantle and not vote.

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About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.


  1. Robin Percival on

    All parties try to maximise their vote. This is particularly true in a constituency like North Belfast which is on a knife edge. It is naive in the extreme to think that given the realities of North Belfast, Twaddell, Orange parades, and the role Nigel Dodds has played in fermenting division and bad blood, that Sinn Féin wont point out that they are in with a real chance of knocking him out if the anti Unionist vote is maximised. Sadly, and this is not SF’s fault, that means mainly, almost exclusively, voters from the Catholic community.

    I’m sorry that Brian Spencer, who is a commentator I usually find interesting and thought provoking, is on this occasion unable to rise above the kind of comments which are currently emanating from the DUP.

    • “….not SF’s fault?”. Every other party has managed to pick up unionist votes including votes from the Protestant community. Why do many people, both Christian and atheist, regard SF as toxic? Could it be the powerful presence of the extremely well paid old guard.
      Further, Martin O’M is sometimes referred to Martin O’Millionaire which hardly sits well with the current SF cloak of austerity.

    • Glenn Clare on

      “Sadly, and this is not SF’s fault,” The most asinine statement of the election.
      When it comes to sectarianism the Sinn Fein/IRA project is well placed to take the top prize.

  2. I think this is just Brian reverting to type.
    He maybe toyed with the esoteric thought of changing his vote, but now that its crunch time, back to the perceived safety of his Protestant/unionist roots.
    Maybe some day, Brian, you will grow a pair!

  3. If you want a party that is consistently anti-austerity, anti-violence and non-tribal give Clare Bailey (Green) a vote!

  4. Patrick Dobbin on

    I felt exactly the same about voting in south Belfast, I like Mairitin but he wouldn’t condemn Kelly, the party would not discipline him.

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