General Election 2015 - Foyle: Durkan should be sacked like a useless football manager

Outgoing Londonderry MP Mark Durkan should be sacked like a football manager who fails to deliver season after season, and Sinn Féin candidate Gearóid Ó hEára, expected to be the former SDLP leader’s closest challenger in Foyle, is the ‘Tory’ in this election.

These are the damning indictments David Hawthorne, who unlike his Alliance party in the past, at least doesn’t deserve to have the label insipid thrown at him, has levelled at his rivals in tomorrow’s election.

“I would like to see now that Mark Durkan will be judged on the record that he has and the record that he has is one that is totally appalling,” said the organic farmer and environmental consultant.

“There is just no excuse for continuing with the SDLP tenure in charge whilst what you have here is, as you said, the worst unemployment and very high morbidity rates across a wide range of social strata.

“Put simply, if you were managing a football team and we were bottom of the league for the last ten years and Mark Durkan was the manager, would you still give him the job?

“How long would he have been in the job if he was a football manager? He would be long gone.”

The Killaloo-based candidate says joblessness here is a major and chronic issue that keeps coming up again and again on the doorsteps.

“The unemployment figures were released before this election, they showed that this constituency has more than double the average of unemployment at 12.2 per cent.

“Where we are now it’s roughly 5.9 or 6 per cent on average across the UK. We are in a pretty bad situation.

“The SDLP have been in charge of this constituency for the past 30 years.

“I’m trying to attract voters from the SDLP because they are not happy with their record. I will attract voters from Sinn Féin because when they abstain, when they vote for Sinn Féin they give their vote to David Cameron and they are voting for austerity, not against austerity, because of abstention.

“They are going into this election and that is their policy and when they say they are the anti-austerity party it just doesn’t ring true because if you don’t take your seats you are basically saying: I’m a Tory.

“Sinn Féin are the Tory party standing in this election here in Foyle.

“As for the DUP and UUP they can’t win in this constituency. All they can do is appeal to their core. What I would appeal to DUP and UUP voters is: do the right thing.

“Don’t give your vote to SDLP just to keep them in, the need for change here is great and think carefully about your vote, about the record of the DUP and UUP and also about the role Alliance can play in this constituency.”

Whilst Mr Hawthorne doesn’t spare his electoral rivals, it’s not all attack, attack, attack.

The Alliance candidate has a few interesting ideas of his own.

For example, he wants Whitehall, United Nations and European Union departments to be decentralised to Londonderry, a city, which he doesn’t believe has ever gotten its just deserts for the central role it played guaranteeing peace and stability in Europe during and after the Second World War.

“Remember in this, the Foyle constituency, this is the constituency that essentially made the greatest contribution to winning the Second world War.

“It’s never been recognised by the nationalist community in Foyle and I think that’s important, if we can make a peace dividend, if we can argue a case to a Government in the UK: ‘Look, this place has contributed massively to winning the Second World War and creating peace and stability across Europe.’

“I mean, we never, got - we got the DuPont factory and a few other factories - but I think we need to make the case again.

“We need to spread the wealth more evenly across the country and not have it so London-centric.

“I would see no problem in setting up one of the UK Departments - why can’t we have the Health Department of the whole of the UK operating from Derry or Londonderry?

“There’s no practical reason why it couldn’t happen but I would like to hear what the other parties would have to say to that but we need to think outside Northern Ireland in terms of getting a share of the cake in terms of the UK and not just a share of the cake in how it’s split in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Hawthorne also says there’s no reason global organisations such as the United Nations couldn’t headquarter committees and sub-agencies in Londonderry.

”I think there’s been a lot of centralisation of UN bodies in New York and Geneva. I think we need to see how those can be decentralised because, you know, we’ve shown the way and I think, we can do a lot more,” he said.

Other ideas that could put Londonderry on the map and, which Mr Hawthorne will push at Westminster if elected, is an enhanced peace and reconciliation centre based at Magee, a North West based international disaster response force and centres of excellence at Altnagelvin.

“One of the things I spoke to Elaine Way in the Western Trust about was to set up an emergency response team in the North West, between the North West and Donegal to send out a team to areas in the world that are in trouble, so I’m working on that at the moment.

“I’d like to see a centre being set up for peace and reconciliation.

“I’d like to see it set up in Derry because we have made the most progress towards peace and reconciliation.

“If that were set up, a chair, I mean, we have a chair but to further expand that.

“I take a broad view. I like to travel and I see things around but I don’t see practically why all the agencies should be based in Geneva or New York,” said Mr Hawthorne.

Speaking of Dr Stephen Farry’s Magee, has the issue of university expansion or lack of it come up on the canvass sofar? It’s his Minister after all.

“It hasn’t come up as often, I think, because it is one of those things that will bubble there all the time,” he said.

Turning to constitutional matters, Alliance members are often accused by their opponents as suffering from a kind of political dissociative identity disorder.

Although it generally adopts an agnostic unionism of sorts, who’d be surprised these days if Anna Lo ended up at the GPO next spring given her comments about a United Ireland last year.

Where does Mr Hawthorne see himself in this broad Alliance spectrum?

“I’m an Alliance representative. I don’t have a view on that, really strongly. I’m comfortable where I am at the moment.

“If the people decide that they want to change then it’s the people that will decide. What I’ll commit to do is to honour their decision.

“I carry a British and an Irish passport so I don’t have a problem with being either British or Irish.

“I’m quite happy where I am at the moment. I just don’t think that the time is right. I come from a unionist background but I’m here to represent everyone and I will do that job without fear or favour, regardless of any side, religion, gender.”

An easier riddle is where does Alliance see itself on the left/right continuum? No surprises, that Mr Hawthorne sees himself sitting bang in the centre on fiscal and economic matters.

“I wouldn’t like to be pigeon-holed on that, I think on certain areas we would be moving to the left but on other areas such as the welfare cap, the SDLP have been giving us a bit of criticism because Naomi voted in favour of the welfare cap.

“I think the majority of people here recognise that there is a limit to where welfare and benefits are and £26,000 is a fair amount for any one family to be receiving.

“So it’s important there are limits set. That’s on the right side. On the left side we want to see the pay increase go to the nurses.

“I wouldn’t see us as being left or right. We always want to be seen and will be in the middle. In the middle between Orange and Green but also in the middle between left and right.

“Conservatives want to go too far. Labour and the SNP together want to take us too far in the other direction.

“You have to try and steer a middle path. We’re in a hole and we have to get out of it.”

Last year the Sentinel was dismissive of Mr Hawthorne’s changes of getting elected to the new Derry City and Strabane District Council in the Faughan District Electoral Area (DEA).

Referring to the prospect of his election, the Sentinel declared: “None. There is no unionist-lite constituency here. Mr Hawthorne will, however, improve on the 48 first preferences he polled in 1997.”

In the end, Mr Hawthorne polled 336 first preferences, which was less than any candidate, apart from UKIP’s Geoff Cruickshank.

He was eliminated after a few stages before getting a chance to accrue significant transfers.

But whilst the Sentinel was correct, we were also wrong, as Mr Hawthorne contends.

“The last Council elections were a bit of a breakthrough for us.

“Alliance got the best vote in 35 years, 892 votes, it may not sound a lot but it is a massive change for ourselves.

“Where I canvass, in my constituency, I got the largest vote of all the candidates that we had.

“Where I was canvassing I managed to increase the turnout by 10 per cent and that was from the tallies from the other parties that were there, who gave that information to me freely.

“There were 1,000 votes there, a Council seat, but because there was a strong independent candidate that was standing along with me or against me on a similar ticket...

“Basically, the Council isn’t as balanced as it should be.

“There should have been an Alliance seat on the Council. We can’t go over that again. What we need to do is go forward and say to people, in this election there are seven candidates and there is a good wide range of candidates and Alliance is standing up for people, who don’t want to be either Green or Orange and actually feel that the day-to-day issues are what is important to them - unemployment, health and infrastructure.

“We can’t get the jobs without the infrastructure. Everything is linked.”