It is not the island that is divided, it is the people that are divided- O’Loan

17 02 2016

Province Map

Opinion piece from Cllr Declan O’Loan

No one, looking at the history of the Assembly since 1998 can be sanguine about its future prospects.  Political divisions, there and in the wider community, are so intense that they put massive strain on a government structure which is necessarily based on power sharing.

The Executive is seriously underperforming.  Lack of cohesion means that major challenges in education, health and the economy are not being faced.  Many people are not voting.  What is missing is a common sense of purpose that commands broad support in the community.

How is this to be achieved when different constitutional aspirations lie at the heart of our divisions?

John Hume pointed out that it is not the island that is divided, it is the people that are divided.  This is a statement of utter simplicity and yet of profound depth.  Anything which does not work towards uniting the people will be a failure, as it has been in the past.

The people have responded to the democratic opportunity offered under the Good Friday Agreement by electing those that they see as the strongest champions of unionism and nationalism.  That is not uniting the people.  Some see a border poll as the way forward.

They are oblivious to the fact that a simple majority in favour of a united Ireland, even if it were to happen, would not unite the people.  The United Kingdom as an entity is under severe strain, and I find it hard to see how stable devolved arrangements can be constructed.

If Scotland leaves, the position of Northern Ireland will be very strange.  But no one should think that it will then be easy to roll over into a united Ireland, and our problems will be over.  That does not satisfy the “John Hume test” of uniting the people.

Does anyone suppose that in a new united Ireland the unionist political parties, flags, parades, bonfires, paramilitary groups, would all disappear.  Is it not more likely that the more unpleasant manifestations of unionist domination would intensify in local areas.

There is no alternative to the current structures, and what we have to do is make them work for the foreseeable future.  An opposition of a sort has been agreed for the Assembly.  Maybe that will achieve something, but I am not so sure.  Some have confidence that it will somehow “normalise” our politics, and that is a fantasy.

No, the only hope is to build up much more commonality of thinking within the existing structures.  What does this mean for unionism and nationalism?

Unionist wagons are still circled

For many years, it was the reluctance of unionism to engage that made it impossible to set up power sharing structures.  Those misgivings did not disappear  when the institutions were set up.

The repeated collapses of the Assembly, the defections to less moderate parties, the founding of a new party fundamentally opposed to the current structure (and its winning of significant public support) all testify to this.

The dynamic at Stormont is a curious mixture of teamwork at times, and at others deep separation and animosity, but it is the latter which is the stronger.  Unionism and nationalism have not fully entered into a spirit of partnership.  Unionism still gives every sign of being a reluctant player.

Unionist wagons are still circled and there remains an atmosphere of siege.  Any proposed change which reflects the nationalist tradition is seen as a challenge.  These attitudes repeat themselves in grassroots communities, indeed the two levels reinforce each other.

We observe widespread flag flying, bonfires, and parades, with a highly assertive attitude towards all of these.  Loyalist paramilitaries exert strong control in local areas.  If Stormont is going to work, there has to be a major softening of these unionist attitudes.

Nationalism too needs to change.

At a very deep level. nationalism has often failed to give legitimacy to the sense of Britishness felt by many in Northern Ireland.  The historic political power held by Britain over Ireland is seen as such a deep wrong that the entire right rests with those who wish to remove all vestiges of that power.

This is most clearly seen in the mindset of certain republicans who react with hatred towards British involvement here, and regard all steps, including violence of any degree, as morally justified in order to remove it.  The basic issue around legitimacy is much more widely felt.

If we are to establish common ground, nationalism will need to do more to recognise that Britishness is implicit in the background and tradition of many people here, and if it is expressed in a reasonable and tolerant fashion, it must be found a place in a broader concept of Irishness.

In my area, I am very familiar with the stories of Rose Young, scholar of Irish, and Margaret Dobbs, one of the founders of the Glens Féis in 1904.  Both would have been instinctively unionist, but would have regarded it as absurd to suggest that they were not fully Irish.

The space for such thinking has been squeezed out by history, and we need to reclaim it.  Nor must we insist that every unionist go off to Irish classes before we can give them a full place in our concept of Irishness.

The place of violence in our history is the other area which must become a focus for examination within nationalism.  The idea that we can “unite the people” through force and at the cost of so many wrecked lives must be thoroughly rejected, as it has been by constitutional nationalists.

Many groups played their part in the violence of the last forty years, but it is asking a very great deal of unionists to place their trust in the political representatives of republicans who had a role of primacy and centrality in that violence, and have not yet come to recognise how wrong that campaign was.

The commemoration of 1916 also throws this issue into relief.  At this distance we can surely recognise that amongst the idealism and courage of the men and women of the Easter Rising, the modern concept of “uniting the people” was not their thinking.

The Proclamation refers to “differences carefully fostered by an alien government”, underestimating the difficulty of obtaining the “allegiance of every Irish man and Irish woman” to the new Republic.  As nationalists, we have tended to “blame” the unionists for partition.

We need to become aware of the contribution of nationalism to the disaster that partition has turned out to be, through failing to work for a solution which would “unite the people’.  We need a nationalism which acknowledges and accepts the sense of Britishness among many of our people, which says clearly that physical force will not be used on them, and ample space will be found for an outward looking and tolerant unionism.

We are once again at a moment of decision.  We need to implement the well established steps for dealing with the past.  That on its own will not be enough, nor will it even achieve implementation unless we enhance the trust levels.

We can continue the stop-start acrimonious character of the Assembly, or we can embark on a new journey.  A modern forward looking Northern Ireland can be constructed.  A “Northern Ireland which works” cannot be built in isolation.  The British connection is inbuilt through the funding mechanism and numerous legal links.

The Irish dimension must be reinforced in a more focused way.  People can make voting decisions based on champions for their own community, or we can get leadership towards a future with a common foundation, and support for that kind of leadership from the grassroots.

There is a responsibility on political leaders, and also on all of us

Cunningham condemns attack on Ballycastle GAA Club

15 07 2014

McQGAA graffiti

SDLP Ballycastle Councillor Dónal Cunningham has condemned those responsible for daubing sectarian graffiti on the wall of the local GAA grounds and clubhouse as “despicable”.

The attack on McQuillan GAC comes just two nights after a similar attack on the local Orange Hall, which Cllr Cunningham also condemned.

Cllr Cunningham said: “The use of the same colour and slogans as used on the Orange Hall two nights previous might have been for some warped purpose, but  nothing can detract from the fact that people need to be respectful of other people’s views, beliefs, culture and property.

“Whoever is behind this attack should be ashamed of themselves. Spraying disgusting slogans on the walls of an Orange Hall or GAA Club will not achieve any objective. It is despicable and these stupid incidents must not be allowed to damage the good community relations in the area.

“No one in Ballycastle wants to be associated with these types of juvenile and unacceptable actions.” 

Graffiti “juvenile and unacceptable”

13 07 2014

Orange Hall

SDLP Ballycastle Councillor Dónal Cunningham has condemned those responsible for daubing sectarian graffiti on the wall of the local Orange hall on the eleventh night as “juvenile and unacceptable”.

Cllr Cunningham said: “People need to be respectful of other people’s views, beliefs, culture and property. Whoever is behind this attack should be ashamed of themselves. Spraying disgusting slogans on the wall of an Orange hall will not achieve any objective. This stupid incident must not be allowed to damage the good community relations in the area.”

“No one in Ballycastle wants to be associated with this type of juvenile and unacceptable action.”

Historic litigation a major step on road to justice

11 04 2014

SDLP Press Conference

The SDLP have together with Denise Mullen welcomed news that High Court Writs have been served on the Chief Constable of the PSNI, The Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State in relation to the killing of Dinny Mullen, Patrick Falls and Betty McDonald in the 1970’s.

The cases have been initiated by the next of kin of those killed by a group of renegade loyalist terrorists known as the ‘Glennanne Gang’. The gang was associated with the killing of up to 120 people in terrorist killing sprees that spanned a 5 year period in the late 1970’s in mid Ulster.

Speaking during a Press Conference in SDLP Party Headquarters, which was also attended by Denise’s legal representative Kevin Winters, Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA said:

“Denise has been fearless in pursuing justice over a period of many years. Today is a major step on the road to finding out the truth about the murder of her father.

“The SDLP have always stood shoulder to shoulder with victims and demanded fair play for them. Victims demand truth, justice and closure-not simply partial closure. If we don’t deliver and implement the Haass proposals then an increasing number of victims like Denise will be forced to seek legal redress.

Party Justice Spokesperson Alban Maginness MLA said:

“A total of 32 families have agreed to take part in this unprecedented mass litigation which addresses the very serious instances of collusion that took place during the course of the troubles.

“This historic action is a culmination of a lot of hard work by Denise in conjunction with her solicitor Kevin Winters to bring an action which alleges that the British Government and its agencies, the Police, the military and the Northern Ireland Office facilitated or otherwise sanctioned collusion.” 

Speaking following the press conference Denise Mullen said:

“I want the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State and The Ministry of Defence to come out and tell the truth, not a partial truth that seeks to silence my families and others. I don’t want some expensive inquiry – it costs nothing to open a filing cabinet.

“This is just the start of my quest for truth and accountability-it is the very least my Mother and I deserve.”

O’Loan reacts to Court of Appeal decision

11 01 2014


Declan O'Loan

SDLP Ballymena Councillor Declan O’Loan has reacted to the announcement that the Court of Appeal has rejected the DPP’s application to have Ryan McDowell’s sentence increased for offences related to January 2011 pipe bombings.

The appeal judges dismissed the DPP application, with reasons for their decision to be given at a later date.

Declan O’Loan said: “I am very disappointed by this outcome and frankly not a little surprised. I presented substantial arguments myself to the DPP as to why the sentence should be increased and obviously the DPP agreed, but in the end the Court of Appeal did not.  I will read its reasons with great interest when they emerge.”

Local Community will reject “sectarian” protest

7 12 2012


Commenting on the news that a social media website has indicated the possibility of a loyalist “flag” protest scheduled to coincide with a meeting of Moyle Council, Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has said with confidence that the local community will reject the sectarian nature of the protest and jealously guard the good community relations and neighbourliness which have long existed in the town.
2012 has seen the establishment of a very active Community Development Group, the visit of the Olympic torch, a Community Games festival weekend, efforts put in place to revitalise the town centre and to bring improvements to the Lammas Fair. This work will continue protest or no protest.
The local community will not allow outside influences undo that good work

Path to reconciliation must not be derailed by Griffin

30 09 2012

SDLP Oldpark Councillor Nichola Mallon has hit out at inflammatory comments made by BNP Leader Nick Griffin after he attended the Ulster Covenant commemoration and said he should withdraw them immediately.
Cllr Mallon was speaking after the far-right MEP sent a foul-mouthed sectarian tweet to republicans following his presence at Stormont during the commemoration ceremonies.

 She said: “Nick Griffin has shown himself, yet again, to be the living embodiment of all that is wrong in political activism – espousing racism, sectarianism and every kind of venomous and bitter disrespect.

 “By using the language he used, he has also proven himself unfit for elected office and the authorities at the European Parliament should be taking advice on what action to take against him.

 “His presence at Stormont today was deeply unhelpful and should have been challenged– all Nick Griffin seeks to do is stir up discontent and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, and that is the last thing we need. I would hope that unionists will disassociate themselves from the backward and archaic political views which he so disgustingly expressed today

Cunningham welcomes Roads Service action on “Ballycastle” signs

2 08 2012

 Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has welcomed the Roads Service action to deal with the blacking out of the name of ‘Ballycastle’ on road direction signs.

For a long period the name of Ballycastle has been blacked out in Dervock, Roads Service has acted to resolve the issue.

Councillor Dónal Cunningham said his party had previously contacted Roads Service about the issue and he has praised their proposal to speak to people in the local community, he welcomed the positive input from community leaders in Dervock.

Cllr Cunningham said the emotional damage caused by the targeting of the name Ballycastle on street signs highlighted the need for respect between neighbouring communities.

Communities need to respect each other

19 03 2012

Commenting on the selective targeting of the “Ballycastle” name on directional road signs in a number of locations in North Antrim, SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has called for neighbouring communities to show each other greater respect.
“I am concerned that the recent spread of this vandalism looks to have some systematic and planned approach involving considerable effort. I have three major concerns regarding the impact of these actions
Cost to the Taxpayer:the cost to the taxpayer in terms of finance,time and resources required by the Roads Service to repair and maintain these signs
Tourism:as a tourist area we need attractive , accurate directional signs as a means of promoting the area
Community impact:the psychological impact on local communities at a time when we should be looking improve cross community and inter community relationships.

Strong local community leadership is needed to combat prejudice and ignorance and to promote better understanding, tolerance and respect.


8 09 2011


Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has called a motion placed in front of Moyle District Council by the TUV as “Apartheid-light”.

 “The Motion will in effect promote the notion of a nationalist Chairperson for the nationalist community and a Unionist chairperson for the unionist community”

Throughout the difficult years of the troubles Moyle District Council led the way, both in terms of power sharing within the elected chamber and the good community relationships and respect within the wider community”

“The idea of “no go” areas and “no go” events for elected representatives goes completely against the notion of progressive democratic politics and human rights for all”

“With the ordinary community struggling to make ends meet, in an area of high unemployment, high benefit dependency and high fuel poverty our elected representatives need to leave the “sham” sectarian squabbles in the past “

“We must be serious about building a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society. What hope is there for us if we can’t even achieve this within the council chamber?”

“Councillors need to build a culture of tolerance, in which all individuals are considered as equals, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere and where all political groupings and mandates are treated fairly and with respect.”