SDLP leader Ritchie rules out merger with Fianna Fáil

Mon, Apr 19, 2010, 01:00

NORTHERN VIEW:THE RECENTLY elected leader of the SDLP Margaret Ritchie has ruled out a merger with Fianna Fáil.

Speaking at the Labour Party national conference in Galway she said that a merger would not happen while she was leader.

Ms Ritchie said that she intended to turn around the fortunes of the SDLP by showing people that the party has a unique vision which involved a strong policy on jobs, the building of a shared society and a credible approach to Irish unity.

“There has been talk of us joining with Fianna Fáil and there are some in the SDLP who like such a proposition. But let me make our position clear. Merger with Fianna Fáil? Not on my watch.

“Our policy is to maintain good relations with all parties in the South and, truthfully, I have great regard for Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny as well as, of course, for Eamon Gilmore.”

She said it was not normally SDLP practice to comment on policy issues in the South but the conference gave her some latitude.

“I believe we have a moral duty to make those people [who caused the crisis] shoulder the burden of correction and not the people who are already struggling to get by, including junior public sector employees and the working poor.

“I am not impressed with Nama, it is simply a rehab centre for banks. Nor do I think it was the right decision not to close, at the very least, Anglo Irish Bank. This institution is now a byword for toxicity, and its impact is not just numbers on balance sheets or deserted housing developments. Right now it could well cost thousands of peoples’ jobs in the Border counties. It should not have been rescued.”

She said the SDLP shared a special bond with Labour as both were parties of principle who always put people and country before self interest.

“We both want to see jobs at the top of the agenda in these difficult economic times. And we are both dismayed by those impostors who after decades of pointless violence would claim the historic legacy of James Connolly and the life’s work of John Hume.”

She said historians had yet to write up the contribution Mervyn Taylor and his Labour colleagues made to modernising Ireland and making it fairer for all its citizens.

“And in all the praise about the peace process, the SDLP will not forget the absolutely vital and central role of Dick Spring . . . There is one person in this room I particularly want to thank for his never-faltering support over many years. On behalf of the SDLP and from the heart, thank you Ruairí Quinn. And thank you too Eamon Gilmore. As a new kid on the block I have watched your leadership with great admiration. You have led your party with authority and purpose.”

She said that the next election in the Republic would be a great day for the Labour Party. “And on that night I will be watching a TV, in Downpatrick, looking out for one particular result. The name Spring, restored to its rightful place, heading the poll in Kerry North.”