And so farewell, Conal McDevitt MLA - or should that be ‘Slan go foill’ - G’bye for now? In retrospect it seems inevitable that he had to walk the plank, but there were moments after that payments-to-his-wife’s-company thing broke, I thought he’d manage to tough it out. Or brazen it out, if you’ d prefer that word. After all, Peter Robinson came through the hell-fire of Irisgate and sure now you’d think it never had happened. I know the two men had quite different problems but they both did have problems, big ones. Peter made it across the fiery coals, Conall rolled his eyes and hopped off the sole-scorcher half-way.
For me it’s another case of liking the person whose political view by no means coincide with my own. I liked/like Conall. I’ve never met him but I liked his fluency in interview and I liked his general good humour and I liked the sort of... open quality he had. Let’s say if all our MLAs had a similar civilized demeanour, Stormont would be a better place. On the other hand, he was caught with his trousers round his ankles. No matter what explanation for this state of undress, it was still unavoidably the case that his wife’s company received thousands of pounds when it shouldn’t have. The plank beckoned.
What effect will his leaving have? There’ll be those in the SDLP who will have to restrain themselves from breaking into a tap-dance at the sight of his departing back. From what I’ve heard, Conall wasn’t at the top of everyone in the SDLP’s Christmas card list. Grumblings about the frequency of his media appearances, until some people were beginning to think of Conall and the SDLP as synonymous. Uh-uh. Not good. That’s not to say there aren’t people rarin’ to fill his shoes (step forward Claire Hanna - no, not you, Fergal McKinney - once was quite enough). But to have someone who was thought of as a prospective leader of the party plunge from the skies must induce a sickening feeling in the collective SDLP stomach.
A number of people have asked “What’ll he do now?” It’s no joke to lose an MLA job with nothing else lined up. But Conall was a PR man before (even if it was for the constantly-shrinking Labour Party in the south) so there’s no reason why he couldn’t go back to that kind of work. Still, while admitting that I’m a lousy fortune-teller, I have a funny little feeling we haven’t seen the last of Conall McDevitt in northern politics. Or even in the SDLP. So au revoir, Conall, rather than goodbye, slan go foill rather than slan leat.