SDLP leader criticises 'evil minority'
Northern Ireland will not be thwarted by an “evil minority” seeking to hold back progress, SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell has told his party’s annual conference today.
Dr McDonnell at the outset of his keynote address in the Armagh City Hotel condemned the dissident republicans who murdered Cookstown, Co Tyrone, prison officer David Black last Thursday week.
“They claim to carry out these acts in the name of Ireland. Have they learnt nothing from our island’s troubled past? Violence achieves noting but pain, heartache and loss and pits neighbour against neighbour,” he added.
The SDLP leader said in relation to the past that victims deserved the truth. “It is time now for the reconciliation and prosperity process which has been so neglected to truly begin.”
Dr McDonnell was heavily critical of the DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. He said Mr Robinson 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 isn’t innovation. That’s just sectarianism with a fresh lick of paint,” he added.
Dr McDonnell said that if Sinn Fein were truly genuine about facing up to the past and achieving reconciliation “well then et them start that by telling the truth” about the past.
Dr McDonnell said the “master 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 Fein 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 Fein he added, “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 Fein 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 cross-Border healthcare or education, shared telecommunications or a common energy strategy.”
Dr McDonnell, who was elected leader last year, said the SDLP was re-energised and prepared for electoral battles in the years ahead. He said he had appointed 40 new local representatives who were supporting existing councillors and establishing structures where the party lacked presence.
He predicted that the SDLP would regain one of the North’s three European Parliament seats in the next European elections.