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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 1, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    SDLP Seeking a Future for Itself

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The Progressive Democrats arguably achieved most of their aims and their free-market, neo-liberal policies were adopted by the mainstream, so there was no further rationale for their existence. The SDLP in the North could say the same about their own role in the peace process.

    So if Sinn Féin and the Provos have forsworn violent methods, is there any reason for the SDLP to continue in existence? It was a question on the minds of about 30 people who turned out on a cold winter’s evening to listen to Tom Savage, Conall McDevitt and yours truly talking about North-South relations at a public meeting organised by the party’s Dublin support group last night.

    A former party press officer, McDevitt is tipped to become a Stormont MLA in the near future, when a sitting MLA steps down (same as the MEP system of substitutes). He was arguing for greater engagement with the unionists and tentatively setting out an agenda for his party in that regard.

     Tom Savage, currently chair of the RTE Authority, had some very interesting observations on the way politicians interact with the media. The present writer – who, like Savage, has no party affiliation – spoke mainly about the role of the SDLP in the early years of the Troubles: the glory days of Hume, Fitt, Mallon, Currie, Paddy Devlin, Ivan Cooper, Paddy O’Hanlon and others.

    The stagnation at Stormont is quite depressing in the light of the high expectations aroused after the Good Friday Agreement. Can’t these people agree on anything? Maybe there is a role for the SDLP in breaking-out of the tribal stereotypes and the siege mentality?

    • Keith says:

      Creating a system similar to that used in Macedonia might work.
      With an ethnic Macedonian majority and an ethnic Albanian majority, they require political parties to register as being one or other.
      All Governments must have the support of at least one political party from each ethnic group. This means there can be a Government party and an Opposition party in each ethnic group (which are also helpfully geographically separate, unlike the North).
      It might be a useful stepping stone for the North in introducing a real Opposition in the parliament and giving voters real choices.

    • Deaglán says:

      Keith, I don’t understand your phrase,
      With an ethnic Macedonian majority and an ethnic Albanian majority
      How can there be two majorities or are you talking about two separate regions?

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Introduce a law (possibly via the British – Irish intergovernmental council) to ban all public money being spent on sectarian organisations. In that law, define a sectarian organisation as one which has a membership made up of less than 30% of either dominant community. You’d see an immediate transformation of the “norn iron” tribalism which is based primarily on securing economic advantage in the distribution of public monies.

      About 6 months later announce that political parties are to be funded from the public purse.

    • John Doyle says:

      The SDLP are pulling in two different directions. On one hand there is a more cross community Social Democratic view and the other a traditional all Ireland Nationalist view.

      In trying to be all things they have succeeded in appearing to stand for nothing. They still cannot answer “what next?” with a degree of solid purpose rather than fudge.

      Fianna Fail’s acquisition of a former Sinn Fein stormont MLA shows there is a gap in the market that is not being catered for with the present alignment. Although the SDLP vote has massively dropped in the past decade, Sinn Fein has picked up only a small portion of it.

      On the other side of the divide there are many Labour minded Unionists that are put off by the UUP’s alliance with the British Tories. This is an alternative gap on the left.

      The SDLP cannot cater for both gap constituencies, but they should concentrate on one and cut loose either those who hanker after a close relationship with Labour or Fianna Fail.

      The SDLP should re-invent themselves as two new parties. They will prosper more apart than together

    • dealga says:

      Do political parties try and persuade the public that their core beliefs and values – embodied in their policies – are the way forward, or do they tailor their policies to fit with what they believe their public to want? The election here in 2007 would suggest it’s the latter. But at least we don’t have tribal politics.

      Repeated votes in the North would suggest that Northern politics is doomed because the the vast majority of the people in the North are incapable of looking beyond tribal nonsense.

      Therefore any attempt at developing a non-sectarian party focusing on issues unrelated to Nationalism and Unionism, where you’re not pigeon-holed by a religion you might not even adhere to, or a loyalty to another country you might not even feel, is probably doomed to failure until the electorate in the North cop themselves on.

    • John Doyle says:

      I take your point.

      I was just pointing out two gaps in the political landscape the SDLP could target. However they cannot make a pitch for both.

      Given the tribal nature of NI politics, the all Ireland Nationalist route with Fianna Fail would probably be more fruitful than the cross community approach with Labour.

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