How councillor McCusker can bring music to unionist ears by helping put end to rebel night at Ardoyne Fleadh
It is to be hoped the co-option of SDLP’s new man at City Hall isn’t sign party is going a shade greener in bid to reverse its ongoing electoral decline, says Nelson McCausland
The recent election has brought changes to the Northern Ireland Assembly and there have also been changes in some local councils. Several newly elected MLAs have had to give up their council seats because of the prohibition on dual mandates and it is interesting to see who has been co-opted by the parties to replace the sitting councillors.
In north Belfast the SDLP has co-opted Paul McCusker as a councillor to replace Nichola Mallon. In some ways the new 30-year-old councillor is an unlikely choice for the party, but he is certainly embedded in the Ardoyne community and that is probably what the SDLP wanted — a candidate with deep roots in the area.
McCusker is a trustee of the Crumlin Star Social Club and has 15 years’ experience behind him as a volunteer with the Ardoyne Fleadh.
He also works as a nurse, volunteers with a homeless charity, sits on the board of another charity and is an active trade unionist.
For many years there has been a sense of the SDLP being somewhat detached from the core nationalist communities, such as Ardoyne and New Lodge, but you can’t say that McCusker is detached.
In that context he ticks all the boxes, and his association with the Ardoyne Fleadh is especially strong. Indeed, this is something that has been highlighted in reports of his co-option.
In 2013 he was the chairman of the Fleadh committee and he was also the spokesman when controversy erupted over the Irish republican rebel music that is always blasted out across north Belfast on the final night of the festival.
The music is so loud that it reaches far beyond Ardoyne and can be heard plainly in neighbouring unionist communities.
However, McCusker defended the annual rebel night performances and said: “It is music from our tradition and it is taking place in our area. We are not anywhere near any interfaces. The music happens from a big, open area in the centre of Ardoyne. Most of the complaints came in on the Sunday night, the Irish traditional night.” For that read: “Irish rebel night”.
The previous year the chairman was senior republican Eddie Copeland, and he was back as chairman in 2014.
That was the year of the notorious and sectarian performance by a rebel band called The Druids.
One of the band members stepped forward and said: “It’s about time that (British soldiers) took down their little Union Jacks, it’s about time that they loaded up the bus and it’s about time that they all f****d back to England where they came from.” The crowd liked it and roared their approval.
The stars of rebel night in 2015 were The Wolfe Tones and, once again, there were the pro-IRA songs and the IRA chants.
So, how will the new councillor McCusker deal with rebel night this year? It was one thing to be involved as plain Paul McCusker and to defend the rebel night antics, but he is now an SDLP councillor.
We can recall the shameful behaviour of SDLP councillors on the former Newry & Mourne Council, who supported the naming of a park after the IRA terrorist Raymond McCreesh.
We can also recall the action of current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (below) when he carried the coffin at the paramilitary funeral for a former member of the Official IRA and INLA. Now we can add to that a councillor who supported the annual Ardoyne rebel night.
Is it the case that the SDLP leadership is trying to move to a more strident nationalist position? Do they think that this will reverse the party’s decline?
If that is not the case — and I hope it isn’t — and if it is committed to a “shared future” — and I hope it is — can we now expect the new councillor McCusker to use his influence to bring these notorious rebel nights to an end?