'Evil minority' will not stop NI progress, says SDLP chief
Northern Ireland is moving towards a new phase of politics and political development and will not be thwarted by an “evil minority” seeking to hold back progress, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell told his party’s annual conference.
At the outset of his keynote address Dr McDonnell condemned the dissident republicans who murdered prison officer David Black last Thursday week.
“They claim to carry out these acts in the name of Ireland. Have they learned nothing from our island’s troubled past? Violence achieves nothing but pain . . . and pits neighbour against neighbour.”
The SDLP leader said victims deserved the truth about the past. “It is time now for the reconciliation and prosperity process which has been so neglected to truly begin.”
Criticising DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Dr McDonnell said the former used “honeyed words about normalising Stormont and moving out of Orange-Green politics”, but this was a means of “tricking voters into somehow thinking a return to unionist domination under Peter is in their best interests”.
That is not innovation, he added, “just sectarianism with a fresh lick of paint”.
Dr McDonnell said if Sinn Féin was truly genuine about facing up to the past and achieving reconciliation “well then let them start that by telling the truth” about the past.
He said the key to unlocking entrenched positions relating to parading and sectarianism was respect. “A simple request for respect threatens no one and, if reciprocated – and that’s the critical element – can be the key to a wider process of reconciliation.”
He said Sinn Féin was paralysed into dithering indecision by the fear not only of what the SDLP are doing but fear of upsetting their bedfellows in the DUP. Referring to some recent squabbles between the DUP and Sinn Féin, he said: “All the false set-ups, phoney fights and mock arguments of the last month are nothing more than a fig leaf, designed to reassure supporters on both sides that the DUP and Sinn Féin are still the tough kids in the playground.”
Dr McDonnell said that development of North-South structures was vital. “We firmly believe this island of ours can be so much more prosperous as a result, whether it’s in providing space for crossBorder healthcare or . . . a common energy strategy.”
Dr McDonnell said he had appointed 40 local representatives who were supporting councillors and setting up structures where the party lacked presence.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was at the SDLP dinner in the Armagh City Hotel on Saturday night and also condemned the Mr Black’s murder. He said the Garda and PSNI would “press on harder than ever to root this evil out”.