13 May 2005

Belfast Telegraph

**Via News Hound

Salutatory experience of life on sidelines of political scene

Eamonn McCann
12 May 2005

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You know you're a fringe phenomenon when television crews run away from you. This happened at the Templemore Sports Complex on Friday night just after the completion of the count for Foyle.

It was one of my two interesting experiences of the election campaign. The other concerned the PSNI and Glasgow Rangers.

At Templemore, the folk from Hearts and Minds had pleaded for an interview. Eventually, I agreed. It wasn't that they were desperate for material, nor (I think) that I'd become a bumptious class of candidate.

But they were preparing an item on "the small parties" and we in the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) weren't sure we wanted included in a mixum-gatherum of minor irrelevancies.

"We want to know why you keep banging your head against a brick wall when you know you have no chance," explained a graduate of the Ormeau Avenue School of Fastidious Diplomacy.

The reason for our chagrin was that at that particular point the SEA wasn't a small party at all but, rather, one of the Four Main Parties in the constituency, having romped to a sensational 3.62%, well ahead of the Ulster Unionists, trailing behind on 2.29%.

Admittedly, this heady eminence was to last only three days, until local government ballots were counted on Monday. But that's irrelevant.

Having graciously agreed to favour the Beeb with an interview, I was moving to the only point I wanted seriously to make when, all of a sudden, the camera-person collapsed his tripod across his shoulder, secured the camera under his oxter, spun on his heel and ran pell-mell for the side door, tugging the interviewer jerkily along, connected to the camera by microphone cable.

This tumult had been triggered by a gulder from (I do believe) George Jackson that: "Mark Durkan's about to speak!".

If it had been baby Dearbhaill about to speak, I'd have understood the excitement.

But anyway, that's how I learned I was a fringe phenomenon.

The other interesting thing was a friendly chat with a Rangers fan as we protested together against the police.

This pleasant scene unfolded outside the courthouse on Bishop Street on the Monday before the poll.

Two days earlier, an incident in the Waterside which I can say nothing about (because it's sub judice) was followed by a fracas during which, according to a number of witnesses, some members of the PSNI behaved improperly.

As a result, I found myself engaged in a series of conversations with youngsters I'd never met before who made no secret of their dislike and distrust of the police.

THEY shared the belief, widespread in parts of working-class Belfast, that the PSNI behave more belligerently towards young people in Protestant areas than in Catholic areas because they know there'll be little comeback from the Protestants' representatives.

"If they pushed Catholics around like they push us around, Sinn Fein would be down on them like a ton of bricks."

I had the placards composed in my mind before they'd finished their tales of harassment.

And thus it was that we gathered, from the Fountain, the Bogside, Lincoln Courts and the Creggan, marching up and down the well-trod (by me, anyway) pavement in front of the courthouse, carrying indiscriminate placards urging: "End Police Brutality" and such. This (again, for me anyway) was a first.

The Fountain woman alongside me sported an Ibrox Park baseball cap, so I mentioned, by way of casual conversation, that she must have been pleased that the Blues had splashed their way to three messy points at Pittodrie the previous afternoon.

"Oh, yes!" she enthused, "we really needed the points…"

"Still," she generously conceded after a moment. "I don't suppose you were too pleased."

And I agreed that, no, I hadn't been.

It only occurred to me later that I ought to have added that of course, though, I was pleased for her.

Interesting election, viewed from the fringe.


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