I make no secret of the fact that I’m pretty irritated on a regular basis by our politicians. I just don’t understand the rare strand of intransigence that most of them seem to cherish. They appear totally unable to get on with each other or some to any kind of resolution over anything. I don’t get it.
Clearly primary school teachings were much different in their day than they were in my childhood. Obviously, no-one is going to be able to get on with everyone that they encounter. Some people will just rub us up the wrong way because of their personality. Maybe they’re too loud and you prefer to be around people that you can’t hear from the other side of the playground. Perhaps they have a bullying nature and aren’t kind to those outside their tight circle. Maybe they’re the kind of person who looks down on those who don’t tick all their boxes. Or maybe there’s just nothing in common. In school, we were taught to still be kind to these people and respect them rather than cause insult at every opportunity. It’s a lesson that should perhaps be revisited in the new politician orientation meeting that I assume take place after each election, and a little poster stick up by the desk in their office of how to be a good public representative.
Although maybe it’s a refresher course that should be made compulsory for all politicians each year. A re-certification of general decency that must be passed before the expenses sheet can be approved.
The past fortnight has shown that even the most established of politicians here can have serious lapses of judgement. I am of course speaking of the now former MP for West Tyrone, Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff.
Over the past year or so, he has been uploading short videos to his various social media channels and it seems that he had decided to try out a side-line in comedy although apparently this has been a long-held passion given that he is known for performing at Sinn Féin events. Such ‘highlights’ included creeping around Stormont looking for Snickers bars in a vending machine by the DUP offices and imitating the RHI scheme by getting £1.60 back from one of those machines after spending £1. Honestly, they’re just as hilarious as I make them sound.
On January 5, he tweeted a video of himself with a loaf of bread of his head, asking where the shop kept the bread. It was an idiotic enough post as it was, but made to seem much more sinister by the fact that it was a loaf of Kingsmill 50/50 bread and was posted on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmills massacre.
Again, I just don’t get it. McElduff denied any connection between the two at the time and basically said that it was just a hugely unfortunate coincidence. I honestly find that a little hard to believe. Especially after I discovered the fact that he’s actually written two books, one of which specifically deals with his discovery of social media and how to best use it. He can’t claim sheer naivety when he’s specifically written on the subject, never mind the social media guidelines he will undoubtedly have been provided with by the party.
How can an established politician who has been a representative for more than two decades and a Sinn Féin activist even before that not realise what a critical day in the history of Northern Ireland that he was tweeting on? How on earth could the significance of the day so easily pass him by? It’s something that can be found in any number of books on “The Troubles” and it’s taught in schools where now a generation only use their imagination and the internet to learn about the reality rather than having to live through that time.
In this house we pretty much exclusively buy the 50/50 loaf. I luckily didn’t have to live during that time of extreme conflict but even I made a mental link between the name of the bread and an event so atrocious. I had to go to the shop for bread the day that video was posted and I felt a little uncomfortable going in and picking up the same loaf that I’ve been picking up for years. If that video can make me feel uneasy, then I can’t even imagine how it made the victims and their families feel.
This went further than just not being funny. It was just so unthinking. And if he did genuinely not realise the date, then that isn’t really any better because he has a dangerous blank spot when it comes to common sense and basic knowledge. If anyone had posted a video like that on the same day, there would have been a backlash but for a politician to do so was just unthinkable. Only Barry McElduff knows why he thought that video was a good idea and the intent behind it so no matter what the rest of us may think, it’s him who has to live with the consequences.
Despite the hurt and anger that was caused, the initial punishment was only a suspension from all party activity for three months but that didn’t seem to mean very much as he was back working in his constituency days later and was still to receive full pay. It seemed to be nothing like a punishment and more of a few months off from extra duties which sounds much more positive to me.
Many felt that he should have instead chosen to resign there and then and I tend to agree with them but his resignation only came on Monday morning, ten days after the video was first posted. It feels like it’s just too little too late and that he’s bowed under the public pressure rather than doing it of his own volition and because he truly believed it was the right thing to do in the circumstance. Instead of taking responsibility for the matter in the first instance and being able to keep some level of self-respect, there is now none for him to salvage.
There’ll be a by-election now in the coming months to find his replacement and I think it’s going to be very interesting to watch as his reputation, and by default, the reputation of his party has been damaged by this video and their handling of it. There was condemnation across the political spectrum amongst the public and given that we’re all more than a little annoyed at the two main parties for the mess up at Stormont, there’s a chance that there’ll be a real shake-up.
Whoever it is, I just hope they have a little more cop-on than their predecessor. We’ve enough wannabe clowns in politics. It’s time someone took things seriously.