Thoughts on election of new Stormont Speaker

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th January 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye ''Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin elected as speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly today at Stormont.  It is the first time in the history of Northern Ireland that a Nationalist has taken the seat.  ''Mitchel McLaughlin pictured in his new office at Parliament Buildings Stormont.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th January 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye ''Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin elected as speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly today at Stormont. It is the first time in the history of Northern Ireland that a Nationalist has taken the seat. ''Mitchel McLaughlin pictured in his new office at Parliament Buildings Stormont.
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It would be too cynical, even for me, to suggest the office of Assembly Speaker is a consolation prize for Derry. No, that would be going too far. It’s not like the City of Culture badge. It’s just that we’ve done well with two speakers in a row even if we’ve done badly when it comes to job creation and investment.

Mitchell McLaughlin is a thoughtful republican. He’s a good speaker so he’ll be a good Speaker. Mind you, ‘Speaker’ is too grand term for Stormont’s chairman but that’s beside the point. “Ceann comhairle” which translates as “chairman of the council” would be better although not, of course, to the MP for Cúil Raithin agus Léim an Mhadaidh.

At least Mitchell McLaughlin won’t be following Willie Hay to the care home in London for elderly politicians. The House of Lords can be worth up to £80,000 a year in expenses but at least we get wonderful value for our money with all that wisdom, don’t we? The only problem is that if they all turned up for ‘work’ Westminster would sink into the Thames.

The reaction of some unionists to Mitchell McLaughlin’s election was revealing. One woman interviewed in a vox pop said she wasn’t “at all happy” and no doubt some of the DUP MLAs who failed to vote weren’t too happy either. We got a strong sense of wounded pride; that is pride in the old sense of unionist privilege. For so long it was a notion carefully fostered by unionist politicians. Only unionists were entitled to high office. We got no sense at all that their unhappiness would make them think how it must have felt for others when they were the unhappy ones. The atavistic desire for a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people is still lodged in the unionist psyche. Mr McLaughlin is the first person to break the mould, at least for Speakers.

We got a variation on the same theme from Gregory Campbell (MP for Cúil Raithin agus Léim an Mhadaidh). Deeply patronisingly, he sees the speaker’s office as a reward for good behaviour. Speaking of Sinn Féin he said, “Today they are moving in the right direction and we again acknowledge that…” So, unionists can grant “concessions” or rewards to their government partners. And, Gregory says, he’ll be keeping an eye on Sinn Féin as usual.

Incidentally, recent Irish history has conspired to give the label “republican” too specific a meaning. It tends to exclude all those who’d like to see a sovereign 32 county Ireland without a monarchy but who’ve never supported the armed struggle. It might be time to re-claim the label for the rest of us. Irish republicans needn’t be all that different from English republicans, or French ones, or whatever.

Of course, there are many republicans in England who don’t think it’s sensible to have 15 members of a privileged family living in luxury on state aid. There are many who think their benefits should be capped, so to speak.

Prince Andrew, for instance, had to cut short his Christmas holiday in a £20,000 a week chalet in the Alps to fly home to explain himself to mummy. Creatúr bocht, (poor crater) we might say. The poor prince only had 90 foreign trips at public expense last year even though he no longer has any official status.

Yes, I know I’ll not get rewards from the DUP for views like that.