Claire Hanna BBC Talkback 13 December 2019

Follow me

BBC Radio Ulster
Talkback

William Crawley speaks to the SDLP’s Claire Hanna who was elected MP in Belfast South taking the seat from the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly by more than 15,000 votes. The Belfast Telegraph‘s Political Editor, Suzanne Breen, Columnist and former DUP Minister, Nelson McCausland, and Historian and Irish News columnist, Brian Feeney, are in studio with William and join this segment. (begins time stamp ~42:21)

Where’s the Audio?  This episode is not available for download.  To listen as you read along click here.  (begins time stamp ~42:21)

William:  Claire Hanna, the newly elected MP for South Belfast, certainly doesn’t need to take anything on the chin today. You must be delighted. Have you had any sleep yet?

Claire:   Not very much. About an hour.

William:  An hour! And you’ve just come back from a carol service I hear. (crosstalk)

Claire:  Yes, yes, absolutely! My seven year old’s carol service – those are the commitments you can’t break.

William:  Alright, tell us how you’re feeling in terms of the politics of what’s happened last night.

Claire:  


Claire Hanna
Photo: The Irish Examiner

I think the wider politics – I’m disappointed by. I’m worried, in fact, by the Conservatives having such a majority. I have to confess I haven’t kept abreast of all the different results yet; I’ll sit down and absorb them later on but I think it is concerning. I don’t think that Boris Johnson has good intentions towards public services. We still think that the EU (European Union) hold the cards in terms of the Brexit and the future relationship but any concessions that might have been given and any leverage that Northern Ireland might have had is now demonstrably gone…

William:  …And of course during your campaign you were saying, you know: Vote for Pro-Remain candidates…

Claire:  …vote for pro-…

William:   …Go in there and fight for Remain and then Boris Johnson comes through with this whopping majority, landslide victory, and you’re already neutralised.

Claire:  And we said very clearly we will fight for the bottom line as maximum access to the EU and there are very many fences to jump. And we know that even Boris Johnson doesn’t really have a clue what Brexit will look like as it pertains to Northern Ireland so that it up for grabs and the scope of how we relate is up for grabs.

William:  What do you think of Leo Varadkar’s response to the Tory landslide? He said he was relieved and the European Union is relieved because now there’s clarity and we can get Brexit done!

Claire:  I missed that but I can, I can, this is the – I think nobody has enjoyed this stalemate. Nobody has enjoyed the stalled investment. Nobody has enjoyed the uncertainty of not knowing where we’re going so I suppose in some ways some people think ‘better the devil’ you know, I can find no enthusiasm for it. But in terms of the local results I’m very pleased with them; I think the cooperation between parties has really borne fruit – and I think it was a good day at the office for those who were brave enough to do so and I’m glad that there will be – there are three more Remain voices in Parliament. I’m glad to see John Finucane elected as well and in terms of my result and Colum Eastwood’s result I’m obviously delighted with those – they were on a scale that we really didn’t anticipate.

William:  And history made in that for the first time in this history of this state, Northern Ireland, we have a majority of Nationalist MPs returned to Westminster.

Claire:  Do you know? I mean just, everyone will say this, I’ve knocked literally thousands of doors – this, to me, was a post-sectarian election. This wasn’t about Unionism or Nationalism or ‘other’ and I know certainly my own vote it demonstrably did not come just from Nationalists or ‘other’. I mean the figures are very, very clear and the tally is very, very clear – I got votes from every single neighbourhood, every single box, in South Belfast so I…

William:  …It’s just a fact. It’s just a fact that we have a majority of Nationalists now.

Claire:  But I don’t think that that’s the story of the election. I think the story of the election…

William:  …But it is one of the stories of the election…

Claire:  …Sure. But it’s not the story of the election and I think that people wanted to vote for things that were in their interest, the things that commonly affect all of us and they wanted to vote for things…

William:  …Well, you know because people say that there will be people who want to vote for a united Ireland because it might be the way to remain, to stay, within the European Union. These things are linked, aren’t they?

Claire:  Oh, absolutely!

William:  …These things are linked. So a majority of Nationalists MPs, in the minds of some people anyway, will be a very significant moment.

Claire:  Absolutely, but of the twenty-seven thousand people who voted for me some will very, very strongly think that’s the result and some will not so I don’t think that everybody – I think we’ve spent too may years just putting votes…

William:  …and I’ve met some liberal Unionists who voted for you and they weren’t voting as Nationalists…

Claire:  …putting votes into those two piles.

William:  I understand that. Nelson?

Nelson:


Nelson McCausland
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

I’m just interested in something that we touched on and then moved away from very quickly but really relates to the Nationalist community – there are a number of Nationalists here and I’ve yet to hear their answer to it: There was the Sinn Féin gain in Belfast. There was the obvious Sinn Féin massive loss in Foyle but overall there was a drop in the Sinn Féin vote which was significant.


Irish Political Maps

William:  And in the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) vote.

Nelson:  And, yes – we talked at length. That’s why, if we could go back and just talk about the Sinn Féin one because it hasn’t really been touched on. And it would be interesting to hear from Nationalists why there was that drop in the Sinn Féin vote – their perspective on that?

William:  I think we have Conor Murphy coming on the programme after one – we’ll definitely take that up with him. Suzanne?

Suzanne:


Suzanne Breen

I think a lot of it is down to the calibre of the candidate. John Finucane in North Belfast was a very, very strong candidate. He was professional, he was polished – he wasn’t a robot either. I was out with him – I have to say I was very impressed with how he handled people, with how he handled the issues and the problems he faced during the campaign whereas the same cannot be said of Elisha McCallion. I mean the number of commentators, journalists, just ordinary people you talk to – she’s a very much a second-rate Sinn Féin candidate. She is not MP material and I think we saw that out through the campaign. I mean, for Sinn Féin in Doire to be reduced to under ten thousand votes – that is really, really something. I thought Colum Eastwood would win but I didn’t think he would have a sixteen-seventeen thousand majority. This is very embarrassing for Sinn Féin.

William:  Brian?

Brian:   That’s quite correct. I mean I agree with that. The other, you know…

William:  …I’m certain Elisha McCallion would disagree fundamentally that she’s a second-rate politician. She’s been in the seat for two years…

Brian:  …we can do better than that if we want to go into detail. There’s a couple of other points…

William:  …I’m conscious she’s not here and Sinn Féin’s not here.

Brian:  …and one of them was that Sinn Féin got hit on the doorstep a lot about abstention – from Nationalists!…

William:  …Yes…

Brian:


Brian Feeney
Photo: The O’Brien Press LTD

…on the doorstep and Colum Eastwood made a very strong point about the fact that he was going to be in Westminster, he was going to be making the case and so on. There was also a lot of annoyance about the health crisis, the fact that there was no Assembly, that there hadn’t been one for three years and people were criticised on the doorstep for that as well and that did affect Sinn Féin candidates across The North not just in those constituencies, like Foyle and South Belfast, but right across The North.

William:   Beyond that question, can I ask Claire about what this election could mean for Stormont? Because some people are saying: Well the DUP’s had a bad night, a bruising night, and as Nelson’s pointed out Sinn Féin’s vote share has gone down even though they had that success with John Finucane and even though they’re sending back seven MPs but their vote share is down. It wasn’t, in that sense, a great night for Sinn Féin. And that may mean, according to one analysis, that Sinn Féin and the DUP, both of them, might not want to go to the polls in a Stormont Assembly election. They might be more minded to get their heads together and do a deal.

Claire:   I think maybe we realise we only have each other. You know, whatever our long-terms aspirations are we’re all stuck here…

William:  …I feel a song coming on…

Claire:  …and we have to make it work. And I know even having canvassed intensively and extensively in May the mood has so dramatically shifted, people are genuinely anxious about the lack of the Assembly – I think everybody knows it wasn’t perfect – but that move, even in six months, to, you know: Call the whole thing off! to: My God! We need the protection of this! And we particularly need the protection in the context of a conservative government and if those of us in the centre have been hearing that I’m sure all parties have as well. I think the dynamic that the DUP aren’t the Big Man on Campus in London any more in terms of the relationship with the Conservatives helps as well but I think ultimately people realise there’s no alternative to partnership and compromise.

William:  And just finally on this: Obviously, you’re not the only SDLP MP – Colum Eastwood in Foyle will be an MP – if we do get a return to Stormont problems, aren’t there, for having an SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) leader in Westminster?

Claire:  Look, I don’t think so at the moment. We know that the two fronts are very much linked. I have no doubt that Colum will be present and engaged in the talks…

William:  …the talks, yeah…

Claire:  …and will be able to manage both works very well with Deputy Nichola Mallon…

William:  …But if you get it back can you have a party leader in a devolved Assembly in Westminster?

Claire:  Yes, I think we can. We’ll jump those fences when we come to them. I think at the moment the project in terms of limiting the damage of the DUP’s Brexit misadventures are going to be very, very linked between Stormont and Westminster.

William:  And I take it that means it’s a nice problem to have.

Claire:  It’s a nice problem to have. I don’t think Colum Eastwood with such a stunning personal victory is going to be stressing out about it today nor should he.

William:  Alright. Claire, thank you very much and congratulations on your election! (ends time stamp ~ 51:06)

Jamie Bryson The Nolan Show 13 December 2019

Follow me

BBC Radio Ulster
The Nolan Show

Stephen Nolan speaks to Unionist activist and author, Jamie Bryson, via telephone from Belfast, about Unionist and Loyalist reaction to the election results. Belfast freelance correspondent and commentator, Amanda Ferguson, and News Letter Deputy Editor, Ben Lowry, are in studio with Stephen. (begins time stamp ~2:11:55)

Where’s the Audio? This episode is not available for download.  To listen as you read along click here.  (begins time stamp ~2:11:55)

Stephen:  Jamie Bryson, the Loyalist, is joining us now. Mr. Bryson, Jamie, Good Morning! to you.

Jamie:   Morning, Stephen.

Stephen:  Good Morning to you. I know you were sending out texts and tweets to a range of journalists last night taking about ‘resistance’- there will be resistance – what did you mean by that?

Jamie:  


Jamie Bryson
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

Well I simply mean that the position in terms of Unionism and Loyalism has changed as of today. You know, nobody is waking up today and deciding: Well, that’s good. We’re heading off into a economic united Ireland and that’s going to be tolerated. We said all along, you know I spoke in the Ulster Hall last week and said very clearly no matter what happens on the 13th of December we will not be tolerating an economic united Ireland and it’s for Unionism and Loyalism now to sit down, strategically assess where we are and see where we go from here.

Stephen:  Where do you think we’re at?

Jamie:   Well, it’s clearly been a very difficult night for Unionism. I think there was, in some parts of Belfast, a significant surge in the Loyalist vote but unfortunately that was offset by what appears to be many moderate Unionists defecting to Alliance. I think that’s probably for other people within Unionism to analyse – I’m probably not the man to offer analysis on that because I don’t particularly understand that section of Unionism but look, it’s been a very disappointing night for Unionism especially in North and South Belfast but we need to sit down and see where we are but actually, I think there was, if there’s one small silver lining and that’s there’s quite a lot of hard Brexiteers within the Conservative Party who voted with a heavy heart for Boris Johnson’s Betrayal Act the last time because they felt it was their only option…

Stephen: …Boris Johnson is in power now, Jamie.

Jamie:   Well if you’d let me finish: To get us through the main Parliament – I think there will be many people now, that it’s now a Brexit Parliament, and I would hope that there would be many people who may look at the Betrayal Act and may now see that they have more opportunity to change that and make the necessary changes and look, there’s not a massive amount of changes required in order to make it acceptable to the Unionist community.

Amanda:  I think it’s a difficult night of the DUP’s (Democratic Unionist Party) making, though.


Amanda Ferguson
Photo: Sky News

I think that is something that has to be acknowledged and I think that the toxicity around those banners that appeared in Belfast North and Belfast South have contributed to that and also the online post that Máiría Cahill put out, it was used by someone, we don’t know who, to make it into a leaflet and post it through letter boxes and that was actually something that a life-long Alliance supporter said to me tipped them over the edge. They said that online poster’s been taken (inaudible) daily, put through the letter box and it’s not fair and that swayed their vote. So I think whoever was behind those – if they felt they were doing the DUP a favour – made a massive mistake.

Stephen:   Do you think the banner campaign backfired, Jamie Bryson?

Jamie:   No, I don’t. I think many Unionist areas, many Loyalist areas were galvanised. I don’t think at all, we’ve had a massive swing, massive…

Stephen: …They weren’t galvanised in North Belfast or South Belfast, were they?

Jamie:  Well, actually some boxes in Loyalist areas traditionally very low were up seventy percent so actually they were galvanised in South Belfast but the difficulty that Unionism and Loyalism faces is is there’s a vast, moderate section of Unionist which has been conditioned by twenty years of the peace process which has normalised and legitimised the IRA and criminalised and dehumanised Loyalism (crosstalk)…

Amanda: …Jamie, you can’t just keep screaming ‘IRA!’ at absolutely everything. You know, it’s acceptable to be a Republican as it’s acceptable to be a Unionist and …

Jamie: …Are you a Republican now?

Amanda: …the quicker you get on board with that the better.

Jamie: …Are you a Republican?Get on board with what, Amanda?

Amanda: … get on board with the idea that British and Irish identity in Northern Ireland is equal. That’s it. (crosstalk) Sin é – as we say.

Jamie:  Oh, you’re speaking in Irish now? Hardly a shock to you. No, let…

Amanda: …what, did you get a smell of mass off me, Jamie, that you don’t like?

Jamie:  Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom…

Amanda: …Yes, it is. That’s right – the Good Friday Agreement says so – yep!

Jamie:   You may not like that, obviously, as a Nationalist, and somebody who’s obviously quite clearly in favour of the North Belfast candidate, John Finucane. However, there’s many people within Northern Ireland and I would still say a majority of people in Northern Ireland who are British citizens and… (crosstalk)

Stephen: …Let me let Amanda respond to that.

Jamie:   You need to get on board with that.

Amanda:  I just. I – You know, the Good Friday Agreement’s there – it’s in black and white. Northern Ireland’s part of the United Kingdom until the people will decide any differently and the way that that will change, and in my view it will change, will be through a border poll. And the quicker that people within all of our communities realise that it’s possible to accommodate British and Irish identity on an equal basis the better it will be for everybody. Instead of putting fear into people that, you know, expressions of Irish identity are a detriment or are destroying Unionist culture – it’s just not true.

Stephen:  What’s next do you think now, Jamie? Boris Johnson – he’s meeting the Queen, he’s seeking permission to form his government, he’ll have a majority – what is it? – of seventy-eight. He can essentially do what he wants. He can push through his Brexit deal. There can be that border, so-called border, down the Irish Sea. What can Loyalists do about it even if they wanted to?

Jamie:  Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens and I think there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints in relation to that. I don’t have a definitive answer for you. I don’t know – there’ll be many people within Unionism and Loyalism who will have many different views and, as I said, there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints but I think we need to sit down, take the weekend, assess where we are and see what the next steps are but look – nobody is waking up today and all of a sudden deciding that we’re now happy with the deal and we’re now going to meekly go into an economic united Ireland.

Stephen:   You said though, last night, you said some people may conclude that the political process has been exhausted and that would and you said…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: …And you said that would inevitably mean that the opposition to the Betrayal Act would move into a different phase. Given your connections…

Jamie: …it very well may, it very well may (inaudible)…

Stephen: …given your connections to the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) are you hinting at violence?

Jamie:  No, I’m not. What I’m saying is there will be many different viewpoints and there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints and as I say, I don’t have a definitive answer for you of what the next stage of resistance to the Betrayal Act looks like and as I said there’ll be many people that’ll take that view (inaudible)…

Stephen: …Well, what form could resistance take…

Jamie: …Well, I think…

Stephen: …given the fact that there’s been a democratic process now and that’s it?

Jamie: Well there was a democratic, there was a democratic vote in 2016 to leave the European Union (EU) and people done all in their power throughout the year to try and block that and I would speculate they will still try and block that so it’s all well and good that people preaching about democracy this morning are the same people who tried to overturn democracy for three years. Look as I said, there’ll be no knee-jerk reaction – Unionism and Loyalism will sit down and assess where they are and see where we go next and, as I said, there’ll be many different viewpoints – I certainly would not be advocating violence. I don’t think any sensible person wants to see violence but there’s going to have to be opposition to this deal – I hope that wouldn’t be violent opposition – but there will be opposition to it and Loyalism is not going to accept an economic united Ireland and it would actually be in breach of the Belfast Agreement…

Stephen: …They would have to accept…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: … They would have to accept…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: …They would have to accept what the Prime Minister wants to do if he has the support of Parliament – that’s how democracy works! So when you talk about an ‘opposition’ to an economic united Ireland if you’re saying out loud that you’re not trying to incite anybody into violence then what type of opposition could there possibly be bar a general election where people look at Boris Johnson’s deal and the majority of the people in the United Kingdom, which you hold so precious, back him?

Jamie:   Well look, as we said, Loyalism will sit down. There’ll be many different minds. Many different views. So there isn’t a – you know, as I stand here this morning I can’t come on and tell you: This is the consensus, this is the viewpoint, because I don’t particularly know that and as I said people will look at where we are, what form of opposition there should be to the deal, what options are on the table and I think all constitutional, legal options, you know, have to be exhausted. That’ll mean legal challenges, absolutely, to the Betrayal Act because it does breach Strand One (5, d) of the Belfast Agreement in my view, that may, naturally, also involve lobbying Conservative MPs to try and get changes to the deal and doing all that can be possible. There’s a long way to go in this and I don’t think anybody should be talking up knee-jerk reactions but I think the bottom line is this: Unionism and Loyalism is united in opposition to this deal and will not be tolerating it and if this deal goes through the Belfast Agreement is dead because a key tenet of the Belfast Agreement, the Strand One (5,d), that key decision have to be made on a cross-community basis – this deal does away with that so therefore I can’t see how Unionism could go back and implement the structures of the Belfast Agreement (inaudible) (crosstalk)

Stephen:  Okay. Amanda?

Amanda:  Well, that’s an unusual analysis of the Good Friday Agreement but whatever. Boris Johnson is supposed…

Jamie: …No Amanda, sorry – hold on…

Stephen:   Hold on, hold on, Jamie. Hold on.

Amanda:   Hold on, Jamie. Boris Johnson is supposed to be a Unionist and clearly the Unionist community doesn’t believe that he is serving their best interest so that has to be tackled democratically. What we don’t want to see is young Loyalists ending up with criminal records like we did over the flag protests, wasting their lives, going to jail – for what? And I think that what you will see happening is – Sammy Wilson even said it last night when he was asked: Do we take to the streets over this? And he said: No, this is a political fight. And that is the message that has to be driven home time and again…

Stephen: …That’s not what’s Bryson is saying. Bryson’s saying the political process, according to some, has been exhausted.

Amanda:  Well you know, that’s his opinion on it but democracy and the ballot box is the only way through this and people like Jamie have consistently gone on and on and on about the IRA campaign and screamed everything about the IRA but yet he skirts around the issue of violence whenever it comes to like veiled threats of like we don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s a nonsense….

Jamie: …Are you willing to condemn the IRA, Amanda?…

Amanda: …You’re a clown, Jamie.

Jamie:  Amanda, are you willing to condemn the IRA campaign?

Amanda:  Jamie, I’m not going to have a conversation with you where you get to dictate to me. People know that I’m a peace supporting person.

Jamie: …Amanda, Amanda, are you willing to condemn the IRA?

Stephen:   Do you want to respond to him?

Amanda:  Of course. Any violence from any quarter…

Stephen: …There’s your response. There’s your response…

Amanda: …whether it be Loyalist violence, Republican violence or state violence is a nonsense.

Stephen:  I think, Ben Lowry, this programme does not beat about the bush: Given Jamie Bryson’s clear links with the UVF when he is talking about a political process being exhausted – let’s just talk about that elephant in the room on this programme, you know. Is there any possibility of any paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland associated with the Loyalists’ side of it thinking to themselves that that would be their opposition? And who are they going take on?

Ben:  


Ben Lowry
Photo: The News Letter

Well, I’ve no doubt that there would be people who would think that way. What I wouldn’t be expert enough in is how influential they are within those organisations and what clout those organisations have. But let’s look at a spectrum of things here in response to this if you look at it dispassionately: First of all as we are all agreed, the political option is now closed for five years in any event – this is going to be railroaded through. The simple reality is that virtually nobody, and this is – you know, even I was a bit cynical about it but I’ve learned something as far as the process – virtually nobody in England and virtually nobody in the Conservative party – and I interviewed Conservatism and wondered if they had any feeling for the union and, of course, these members at the Tory conference in Manchester said they did – but when it came to the crunch virtually none do, virtually none of the MPs do. So that’s the political option clause.

Then you move onto something that isn’t violent and protest, civic disobedience. Well, that would work if the business were up for it. If all the businesses said: Right, we’re just not doing this. We’re not paying tariffs. We’re not doing paperwork – there was mass disobedience – the poll tax was brought down by that kind of thing, remember. When the poll tax was – people just wouldn’t pay it even in The Shires and respectable places – they wouldn’t pay it. So that would probably work but that’s not going to happen…

Stephen: …There were riots over the poll tax, Ben, if I remember.

Ben:  Yeah, yeah and yeah and Stage Two and this can morph into Stage Three which is violence. And then imagine that there was determined violence – I don’t think that there’s, I don’t even think are organisations that are like this but an IRA type of violence – what I then I think you would see the British state would crush that in a way that it was never prepared to do – it was always nervous about crushing Republican violence – I think that that’s what would happen in that scenario. So to be honest, the options for Unionists are not good with this economic border in the Irish Sea and I suspect what is going to have to happen is people hope that it, in some way, secures the union – let’s talk about the best of both worlds, that it’s relatively seamless – it’s just not a good outcome for Unionists – there’s no way round that. I mean, often still, months into this, I’m thinking – having known for years actually since 2017 a border of some form in the Irish Sea was likely – I’m still thinking moments of incredulity where I think this is actually about to happen. It’s a political disaster and I’m not seeing any ways of stopping it.

Stephen:   Okay. Alright. We need to let you both get to bed certainly you, Ben – you’re exhausted. Thank you very much, indeed. Ben, Amanda – thank you. (ends time stamp ~ 2:25:18)