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MLA Election

Myself and Jim O’Callaghan went canvassing for the SDLP in Enniskillen on Saturday ahead of this week’s elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

To jolly things along, I told Jim that there was no chance anyone would know who he was this far from home.

A few moments later, our SDLP handler politely asked me if I could repeat my first name again.

Poor Jim needed a HIA, he was laughing so much.

There was much more of this low rent stuff as we knocked doors with a fantastic new candidate called Adam Gannon. Only 25 years old, he teaches Science in a local school and is campaigning hard on the need for new and younger voices in the constituency - myself and Jim considered this a good idea although not necessarily appropriate in all contexts.

By the time you are reading this, Adam’s fate will be known. I do hope he makes it into the Assembly.

For my own part, this continued a political tradition going back to 1986, well before young Adam Gannon was born. That year, I canvassed in Newry South Armagh with Seamus Mallon in the Westminster by-elections which had been triggered by the resignation of all Unionist MPs in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

In that election I went up a few times and even did a bit of driving on election day itself, bringing SDLP voters to the polling stations.

I recall standing outside a polling station waiting for a voter to come out and staring absent-mindedly into a thicket of bushes. The bushes stood up carrying a machine gun and asked me what I was looking at in a Cockney accent. Good camouflage in fairness.

Later the same day, a British army checkpoint stepped out on to the road curious about my southern registration plate. More than 30 years later, all of this seems so other-worldly and yet there is still so much to do. Europe has a role to play, if only the Tories could stop weaponising the Protocol for their narrow political ends.

I expect that there will be a long period between the election results and the formation of a Government. Assuming SDLP and the DUP emerge as the two largest parties, Michelle O’Neill will expect to become First Minister, a fine achievement. However, it seems highly unlikely that the DUP would support such an outcome so long as the Protocol remains unresolved.

Regular readers (hi Mum) will recall that I became an MEP as a result of Brexit so I feel a duty to represent to some extent the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland - after all, they voted against Brexit.

In March I brought 5 MLAs over to Brussels for discussions with other MEPs. This went really well and some of them hadn’t actually spoken to each other before. This shows the important role that the EU played for so long as a neutral space where people like Hume and Paisley could interact away from the dreary steeples.

Best of luck, therefore, to Matthew O’Toole, Steve Aiken, Declan McAleer, Rachel Woods and Robbie Butler.

In the same vein, last week, I met James Cleverly the UK Minister for Europe who was on manoeuvres in Brussels. Not known for his progressive views on LGBT rights, I got him to pose in front of an ‘equality’ poster - I expect he will have to endure a severe caning on his return to Westminster. PICTURE

Fogra (with apologies to Con Houlihan): a big thanks to the organisers of Pups in the Park in Malahide Castle, a great event that was a little unlucky with the Bank Holiday weather. PICTURE

Fogra eile: Happy Europe Day on May 9.

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