UNIONIST UNITY?

ToryUUPAnyone remember UCUNF? An electoral pact reuniting the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties in 2009 for the European Parliament election. Jim Nicholson was elected an MEP under this banner of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists — New Force. Although he is a member of the ECR group, his personal website now lists him as a UUP member, following the demise of the arrangement in June 2012.  The UCUNF banner was also used in the Westminster general election in 2010, but the alliance failed to deliver even one MP.

Reg Empey resigned as UUP leader and is now  on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords along with a predecessor, David Trimble. Sir Reg was replaced by Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott, who stood down in 2012. The UUP elected former UTV presenter Mike Nesbitt as leader. He has had a difficult job to keep the party together. An ongoing row with Basil McCrea that resulted in the Lagan Valley MLA being ticked off after an internal disciplinary hearing.

Basil McCrea MLA

Basil McCrea

Then there was the loss of moderate unionist David McClarty, who was deselected by the party for the Assembly election in May 2011. David McNarry resigned from the party in January 2012 and now sits in the Assembly as a member of UKIP. Tonight comes the news that South Down MLA John McCallister has resigned from the UUP and will sit as an independent unionist. He told the party leader:

“Your determination to act in concert with the DUP – over parades, flags and Forum – has significantly contributed to forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches”.

Mr McCallister made a very interesting speech last month to a heritage group across the border in Killanny, Co.Louth (near Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan) in which he hit out at plans for a unionist forum to deal with the flags issue. He described it as a “cul-de-sac” for unionism.

At the same time as this leakage from the Ulster Unionist Assembly mainstream, the UUP leader is talking to the DUP leader Peter Robinson, first of all in the context of the Forum and now in a move towards electoral unity in a constituency west of the Bann. The two leaders announced their selection of a joint unionist candidate for the Mid-Ulster bye-election. This is the Westminster “seat” held, but not taken up by, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister. The man who has the backing of Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt is Nigel Lutton, whose father, a 39 year-old RUC Reservist, was shot dead by the IRA in 1979.

Nigel Lutton (centre) -- DUP picture

Nigel Lutton (centre) — DUP picture

Francie Molloy has been chosen by Sinn Féin to contest the election.  I look forward to reading some of the analysis in the morning about the implications of the latest developments within unionist politics.

SETANTA CUP

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1

Back in the days of my youth, I remember seeing one of the matches in a cross-border competition, the Blaxnit Cup. It might have been the second leg of the final at Dalymount Park in May 1968, when Shamrock Rovers lost 2-1 to Crusaders from Belfast, but took the first trophy 3-2 on aggregate. The following season, Rovers were again in the final but lost 4-3 to Coleraine, who went on to retain the trophy the following year by defeating Sligo Rovers in 1970. The Irish League side re-appeared in the 1972 final but went down to Cork Hibernians over two legs. The competition featured four clubs from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League and it ran until 1974, when it was replaced by the Texaco Cup and then after a break, the Tyler Cup until 1980.

For that reminder about Coleraine’s previous Blaxnit success. I am grateful to David McClarty MLA, who was following my tweets from the ground on facebook. In one of my tweets I mentioned that one of Coleraine FC’s stalwart fans is the actor James Nesbitt, Chancellor of the University of Ulster, who was in Dublin on Saturday for the IFTA awards ceremony.

Since 2005 the all-island club competition has been known as the Setanta Sports Cup. This evening at Tallaght, the Hoops and the Bannsiders renewed their rivalry in the first leg of a first round match. I have been following Rovers at their new stadium over the last two seasons, but I don’t think I have ever seen Coleraine in “live” action.  I was impressed by the visitors and their vocal bunch of around 200 supporters who made the long trip to Dublin from the North-West.

Full Time

Full Time

The new-look home side were playing their first competitive senior game this year, because of the difference in soccer seasons in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Before the game, one minute’s silence was strictlly observed by the teams and the crowd in memory of Tony Clare, a Rovers supporter who passed away recently. Then it was into action, but I missed the usual roar of the home fans and only one stand was in use. I also noticed that one of the banners behind the goalmouth had a picture of Rovers’ former striker Gary Twigg on it. He is now playing for Portadown in the Irish League, who lost 3-2 at Drogheda in the same competition.

Shamrock Rovers had most of the goal opportunities in the first half, with Mark Quigley unsuccessful on at least three occasions. Five minutes before the break, an injury to Ruairi Harkin forced him to retire and he was replaced by David Scullion. In what was to prove the decisive move of the whole match, in the third minute of first-half injury time, Scullion picked up the ball from Paul Owens and coolly lifted it over the top of the advancing Rovers’ keeper Barry Murphy.  Coleraine had taken the lead against the run of play.

Scullion nearly managed to double his side’s lead ten minutes into the second half. Quigley was replaced in the Hoops attack by Gary McCabe, who was involved in a few good moves along with Sean O’Connor. O’Connor came close with a free kick and McCabe likewise in the dying seconds of the game, when Coleraine had their goalie Michael Doherty to thank for keeping their advantage.

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

So the 200 or so Coleraine fans left Tallaght in a very orderly fashion and singing the praises of their team. The two sides will meet again next Monday at The Showgrounds, Ballycastle Road. There were three other cup games (first leg) tonight:-

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC 0 GLENTORAN 0

CORK CITY 4 Morrissey 16, Turner pen 26, 45+1, Kavanagh 69 CLIFTONVILLE 0

DROGHEDA UTD 3 R Brennan 8, O’Connor 14, G Brennan 60 PORTADOWN 2 A Burns 25, Braniff 43

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1 Scullion 45+3