We were in Siracusa today and a lovely place it is. Full of shadowy side-streets to cool you, piazzas to make you dizzy with their elegance, and several churches to make you marvel at the faith that built them. In one of the piazzas a young wedding couple were getting photographs taken. Passers-by called good wishes, cameras snapped, the groom grinned and waved beside his gorgeous bride. As I watched it struck me how little the rest of the world cares about whether we condemn a mob attack on Belfast’s Lord Mayor, whether we work with Dr Haass to deal with the absurdity of flag fascism or manipulation of the past. They don’t even know or care that the SDLP have selected Fearghal McKinney and not Claire Hanna to replace the unfortunate Conall McDevitt.
I don't care that much myself, to be honest. I’ve never seen Fearghal McKinney other than on the television, but I did by accident meet Claire Hanna briefly about a week ago. She struck me as charming and energetic and probably pretty smart. But clearly the SDLP think Fearghal is even more charming, energetic and smart. Odd, really.
Because Fearghal has had one incarnation as a politician already. You probably remember when he sprang from the television screen and stood for the SDLP in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 2010. The notion was that his TV profile would somehow impress the electorate and that Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew as well as other contenders would be knocked for six and Fearghal slide past her and others into the House of Commons. That’s the charitable interpretation of his candidacy. The less charitable is that the SDLP hope was, while he wouldn’t win, he’d take enough votes off Ms Gildernew to knock the Sinn Féin woman from her abstentionist seat. In short, he'd be an effective spoiler.
Well, it very nearly worked out. But not quite. The bould Michelle, you’ll remember, amid scenes of much rejoicing, came home with a four-vote majority. You read me right - four votes. Fearghal, alas, stirred all of 3, 574 voters to cast their ballot for him - a shuddering 7.6% of votes cast.
What was it they used do say, when Mickey Rooney married his seventh wife? Ah yes - the triumph of hope over experience. There’s another saying about those whom the gods wish to destroy, first they make mad. Both I think are apt here. I don’t expect to encounter SDLP people running naked through the streets with straw in their hair when I get home; but I will be watching them carefully for any sudden, possibly dangerous movements.