I’ve expressed my admiration on a number of occasions for John O’Dowd. He’s a big, unflappable, highly-capable Sinn Féin politician and some day may be among the line-up as successor to Gerry Adams. However, last night he was on television and he was made to look clumsy and ineffective.
In part that’s because he was up against Eamonn McCann, an old classmate of mine and the possessor of a very sharp mind and an eloquent tongue. In part it’s also because the subject under discussion was a draft bill (see blog a few days ago) which in its present form would forbid fifty or more people gathering to protest in a public place without giving thirty-seven working days’ notice.
O’Dowd tried to defend the bill on three fronts. One, he said it was aimed at coping with unwanted Orange marches in nationalist areas. Two, he said the idea of thirty-seven days’ notice came from the resident groups affected by the marches. And three, he said it was only a draft bill, subject to revision after consultation.
Sorry, John – it doesn’t stand up. Because you have a problem – and God knows the intrusion of Orange marchers into nationalist areas is a septic problem – doesn’t mean that you can use whatever instrument you like to remedy it. A small nuclear weapon would probably work to remove an intruder from my house, but that doesn’t mean it would make sense. And the fact that the residents suggested thirty-seven days’ notice doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, any more than demands by victims of sexual abuse that Sean Brady step down make sense because they come from victims. As for this being only a draft bill: why draft it that way in the first place?
This does seem to be a classic case of using a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut. With the number of cuts and closures coming down the pipeline in the months and years ahead, those affected have the right to respond in as fair and flexible a way as possible. Sinn Féin should go back, not so much to the drawing-board as its conscience on this one.