By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
All the parties in the North exhaled a big sigh of relief when Gordon Brown bottled out of holding the election he had been threatening since August.
An election would have frozen everything until at least Christmas with a large percentage of MLAs and almost every minister here running for Westminster. Almost every minister that is except Margaret Ritchie and possibly Arlene Foster in the unlikely event of the DUP accepting a UUP candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. As for poor Margaret Ritchie, ‘the election that never was’ produced one result.
It flushed out Eddie McGrady who at the age of 72 believes he is still better than Margaret Ritchie will ever be. Oh dear. He is not going to have a go in 2009, is he?
Will the SDLP let him?
Can they stop him?
Will there be an SDLP in 2009?
Didn’t Mark Durkan stand aside from the executive and appoint Ritchie as minister for the sole purpose of raising her profile to beat Caitriona Ruane in South Down?
Obviously he forgot to tell McGrady he was supposed to go away. So Durkan’s lost out for no reason at all. There’s party discipline for you.
So it wouldn’t just have been a case of freezing assembly business, or what passes for it, until Christmas. An election would have frozen the north’s 2007 politics until 2011 when new assembly, European and Westminster elections would have been likely in the same year. As it is, now it looks as though there might be a chance to shift the ice-pack in 2009.
What will politics here look like then?
Unionists still playing footsie with each other? Nigel Dodds leader of the DUP?
Surely Paisley will not run at the age of 84?
The UUP won’t go away however. They’ll have to be beaten off the stage and 2009 looks like the time for it with a complete absence of personalities available.
It’s the nationalist side that holds the real interest. Fianna Fail are the real beneficiaries of Brown’s dithering and lack of judgement.
An election in November would have shut them out of politics here until after 2011. They now have two years to make their move. They have said they won’t stand for Westminster so the ideal time for them to move north is in 2009 after Westminster and European elections. The SDLP have real problems finding a European candidate as we saw in 2004.
God knows what they’ll do in 2009. Fianna Fail can hover over the party’s prostrate form like a vulture until both elections are over, then swoop. If Fianna Fail start to organise in 2009 they will have two years before the 2011 assembly elections to get their act together.
It wouldn’t only be the assembly Fianna Fail candidates would set their sights on.
Two years after 2009 would be in nice time for the new councils and there’s a queue of potential Fianna Failers in northern border counties.
The real problem will be finding assembly candidates. Recycled SDLP candidates?
Not very attractive eh? On the other hand, new people might be attracted if Fianna Fail let it be known they’re likely to be nominated for seats in the Seanad in 2012 if they fail to get elected to the assembly in 2011. That way Brian Cowen the new taoiseach can deliver on a promise Bertie made but Michael McDowell and Fine Gael stymied; speaking rights for northerners in the Oireachtas. There is no way the other parties were going to agree if the rights were going to be for Sinn Féin figures, that much they made clear. However, it would be a different matter entirely if the Seanad nominees were northern Fianna Fail members. There’s plenty of precedent going back 25 years of SDLP members nominated to the Seanad, like Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers.