SDLP's 'uncomplicated message'

In its editorial today the Irish Times gives its take on the SDLP’s conference message, SDLP offers alternative, and suggests the opportunity exists for the party to regain lost ground – This is the first occasion in many years when the SDLP has been in a position to offer a simple and uncomplicated message to the electorate.

The Irish Times Editorial in full –

A political strategy designed to capture the high moral ground and to challenge Sinn Féin in the coming local government and Westminster elections in Northern Ireland was outlined by the SDLP leader, Mr Mark Durkan, at the party’s annual conference in Derry at the weekend.

The approach to the nationalist electorate will be simple and blunt: if they want law and order to operate in the North and an inclusive approach to a political settlement, they must vote for the SDLP.

There were few punches pulled as the party leadership rounded on Sinn Féin for failing to live up to its political commitments and to operate in a way consistent with the terms of the Belfast Agreement. The £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery was the catalyst for the new departure, but the continuing paramilitary and criminal activity of the IRA was the bedrock upon which the anger and frustration of delegates was built.

The debates pointed to a recovery in confidence as election candidates assessed their future prospects in the light of Sinn Féin’s failure to convince the IRA to go away. This was an opportunity, they felt, to regain the allegiance of those moderate nationalists who had switched votes in an attempt to encourage republicans to engage in democratic politics.

In simplifying its message, the party was careful to avoid any suggestion that it would be prepared to enter a Northern Ireland Executive from which Sinn Féin was excluded. As the chief architect of the Belfast Agreement – and the inclusive approach that it represents – the SDLP recognised the danger of allowing Sinn Féin to present itself as an injured, discriminated-against party within the nationalist community.

Attempts by the Sinn Féin leader, Mr Gerry Adams, to deflect attention from IRA activity by blaming the two governments and other parties for the breakdown in political trust, were rejected as self-serving and arrogant, requiring a punitive response from the electorate. As Mr Durkan and his senior colleagues argued: so long as republicans were allowed to believe they could operate outside of the law, the potential of the Belfast Agreement would remain unfulfilled.

In that regard, the SDLP leader was particularly critical of Sinn Féin for failing to negotiate in the national interest and for placing the interests of the party before all else. Sinn Féin had, he said, abandoned its earlier ambition for an Ireland of equals.

This is the first occasion in many years when the SDLP has been in a position to offer a simple and uncomplicated message to the electorate. Rather than reward Sinn Féin for failing to deliver on its promises, nationalists should place their trust in the SDLP which was working to create a peaceful, inclusive society. With cross party support from Dublin and a growing impatience amongst Northern nationalists, the message may help to turn the tide in the coming elections.

  • IJP

    An excellent editorial but…

    This is the first occasion in many years when the SDLP has been in a position to offer a simple and uncomplicated message to the electorate.

    What, with Mr Durkan at the helm? Simple and uncomplicated? I somehow think not…

  • Ziznivy

    “Vote for us or vote for gangsters and criminals. Whom we will demand be included in any devolved government in case they get offended”. :-/

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    Given that the Irish Times described the UDA as peace makers and bridge builders in an eidtorial two weeks ago (31 Jan) nothing it would say now would surprise me.

  • drumcree

    Interesting that the gloves are coming off in the SDLP’s exchange with Sinn Fein, after what can only be described as a pretty shameful period in the SDLP’s history – where it could be argued that they have been just as culpable as Blair in indulging Sinn Fein and compromising the peace process in the naive belief this would result in producing PIRA’s acts of completion. An interesting excerpt below:

    “But why such a bad deal for nationalists and other
    democrats, given Sinn Fein’s reputed negotiating skills?
    Why such a good deal for the DUP?
    Because Sinn Fein weren’t negotiating for nationalist
    rights or for the national agenda.
    They had no interest in inclusion. They didn’t care about
    any extra North South bodies. They weren’t worried that
    devolution of justice wasn’t tied down.
    It wasn’t about standing up to the DUP for the nationalist
    public interest. It was about protecting the self-interest
    and self-image of the provisional movement:
    · Their ex-prisoners on DPPs;
    · An amnesty for their “On the Runs”;
    · A blind eye to their criminality; and
    · No sight of their guns.
    And what was their “deal breaker”? Release of their
    Garda killing bank robbers.
    There’s only one thing Sinn Fein are true to – their name.
    Sinn Fein means “Ourselves”. That’s all they care
    about. That’s who and what they negotiate for.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘With cross party support from Dublin’

    But hasn’t that always been the case, especially at the last Westminster elections when all the Free State parties supported Briege at Stalingrad.

    ‘and a growing impatience amongst Northern nationalists, the message may help to turn the tide in the coming elections.’

    A growing impatience indeed, it shows you how out of touch they are with northern nationalists when they think this impatience will benefit the SDLP.

  • DerryTerry

    The SDLP starting to talk tough, all together now, ooooooooohhhhhhh.

    Now, instead of talking about it they actually proposed doing something other than wait until SF decide to move they might make some capital out of their new found strength.

    However, until they decide to do more than talk tough, people will continue to view them as irrelevant. By the way, did anyone see the Question Time “Popeye” moment?

  • J Kelly

    I think many people are missing the point on the recent troubles that have befell the SDLP the main reason for the drop in their vote is very poor representation both at local and regional level. I am from Derry and anyone can tell you that the SDLP councillors are a joke and Sinn Fein have been running rings around them for years. At a regional level the SDLP leadership of Durkan and Attwood are seen as wee boys when it comes to the likes of Adams and McGuinness. People will vote for good representation not party political broadcast stuff coming out of a party conferences. If the SDLP cant get good press this week they will never get it.

    After all the huffing and puffing and SF battering I will still forecast SF to take seven seats at the next general election.

  • DerryTerry

    Vote for us or vote for gangsters and criminals.

    As someone from Derry i can only wonder if this also relates to a certain Derry MLA who is heavily connected to the most raided indoor market in the city?

    Indeed, if memory serves me right, and it does, this MLA’s wife was pictured during Derry Hood Watch, sorry Derry Citybeat, during an anti racketeering raid in which large amounts of counterfeit goods and cigs were confiscated.

    If it does I look forward to seeing this MLA thrown out of the SDLP as clearly it is unacceptable in a democracy to be connected to organised crime.

  • aquifer

    Thanks to the Irish Times for decomplicating the SDLP message for us. Could they stay on to do the election soundbites too?

  • DerryTerry

    And maybe get Kevin Meyers to give advice to candidates on how to raise their profiles?

  • Ciaran


    I’m surprised that a supporter of a party who are currently looking for Evidence and Proof and asking for names to be named in relation to criminality, decides to blacken an MLAs family with unsubstianted allegation and no proof in site, rather than deal with what Mark Durkan actually said – actually no I’m not.

    If this is the level of SFs response to Durkan then he must be going in the right direction.


    Huff and Puff for me would adequately describe SF leaders talk since 98 when we were promised the moon and the stars and a new start without paramilitaries – 7 yrs later and this Derry Nationalist is still waiting….

  • DerryTerry


    I take it from your response that you know who i’m talking about as well then?

    DT, Let’s keep the insinuations to a minimum – ed. peteb

  • puddinhead

    It’s good to see the old SF/Ira spin machine is on overdrive on this story. Slam the SDLP all you want but the fact remains this is the only nationalist party that has shown integrity.
    PS I didn’t read many SF/IRA bloggers on the Robert Mc Cartney story a few days ago.
    Furthermore I noticed the pictures of hunger strikers at recent SF/IRA rallies. Lets be clear on this. The hungerstrikers would have been appalled at the criminality of SF/ira.
    Finally 342000 voters posters should be digital with a dropping counter. Roll on May 5

  • alex s

    Derry Terry “As to Evidence and Proof let me put it this way, I am in the possession of intelligence, probably the strongest intelligence i have ever seen,”

    With such ‘intelligence’ you are entitled to be believed, no doubt you will grant the same credability to Hugh Orde?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    alex s,

    the Orde intelligence was there for all to see during the pre Xmas raids and the raids at Beragh, thus by any yardstick the credibility of Orde is zilcho.

  • TroubledTimes

    What benefits have the Northern Nationalist electorate benefitted from since Sinn Fein became the largest political party? Tha real answer is none.
    Lets see what the SDLP have to offer.
    Something needs to change.

  • JD

    Lets see what the SDLP have to offer.

    Other than the fact that they don’t like SF, it’s very hard to see where the SDLP stand on anything or what they are offering.

  • alex s

    patience Pat, patience, Rome wasn’t built in a day

  • alex s

    TroubledTimes, look at the gains made by the Shinners, offices at Stormont and Westminister and holiday homes in Donegal to name but some!

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    alex s

    it’s lucky their weren’t any PSNI members among the bricklayers.

  • tebzz3

    ‘uncomplicated message’
    not sure about that
    attwood claimed to be a republican last week, and now so does durkin, the party has gone from nationalist to post-nationalist to nationalist to republican,
    its a bit like the english league where without moving a team could go from second division to 1st division to championship.
    its obvious that the sdlp are once again benefiting from new labour spin doctors, it just doesn’t work in the north of ireland, it never has, if the sdlp really want to be successful they need to stand on their own two feet and prove to the nationalist they are not just a bunce of uncle toms, the sdlp could actually pick up an awful lot of votes by not just calling themselves republicans but by acting like republicans, durkin could hammer sf in the forthcoming elections if the sdlp resigned from the policing boards and threw down the gaunlet to the dup on issues that sf hold dear

  • cg

    “durkin could hammer sf in the forthcoming elections if the sdlp resigned from the policing boards and threw down the gaunlet to the dup on issues that sf hold dear”

    I think that is the one surefire way to kill the sdlp completely. For so long the sdlp have attacked Sinn Féin’s stance on policing that to admit their policy was right all along would remove any remaining myth that the sdlp are a competent party.

  • lámh dearg

    But the bottom line is that SF eclipsed SDLP by persuading people like me that they had changed and moved on.

    Durkan is right, they got these votes under false pretence, we all knew that there was some activity in the RM still and we gave Adams/McGuinness the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to push them into provoking a split. But that excuse has withered with age, there have been too many incidents, too much cant, too little decency towards either their own “side” or the other “side”, Mitchell refusing to allow the possibility of a “republican crime”

    The votes we lent to SF will return to the SDLP, a Party with integrity.

  • tebzz3

    cg i wrote a long after thought to my post only to find out i was logged out..i felt victimised.

    the sdlp could resign and say they were conned ,the unionists have done it several times with the assembly.

    they could then demand full implementation of patten and the rest of sf’s demands taking them as their own.

    the key is they have already dropped hints they are republican, they should go the full hog and behave like republicans

    and they can do it without the baggage. remember sf were not a republican party they were hijacked by the republican movement as a vehicle and republicans could hijack the sdlp just as easy, leaving sf and the ira intact and in the background,

    at the end of the day republicans believe in a 32 county republic the party responsible means nothing

  • aquifer

    Republicans lack political ambition. What about all the counties in Scotland, Wales, and England.

  • DerryTerry


    I am not insinuating anything. Instead i am making an allegation based on intelligence at my disposal..

    [You’re treading too fine a line DT, and I’m not going to wait for a legal ruling on it. Keep to the ball. – ed. peteb]

    If the SDLP’s uncomplicated mesage is that they are totally opposed to crime surely they need to address this fact, which is an open joke in Derry.

  • the truth

    It was strange to read the article saying that the SDLP has a new found confidence. I say that given the story doing the rounds in Derry that one of their bright young hopes, Gerard Diver, was in talks with Sinn Féin about changing his party allegiance. What kind of confidence does he have when he was looking to jump ship.

  • El Matador

    I witnessed Durkan’s speech in person when I popped-by to the city hotel, and it has solidified political movement in the past couple of months. As I predicted before, the wheels are coming off the SF machine. The way things are heading, I think the SDLP would be justified in saying tiocfaidh ar la.

    The show is back on the road.

  • J Kelly

    The new found confidence of the SDLP seems to be based on one speech by Mark Durkan who had a few swipes at Sinn Fein and the anti republican wing of the party loved it. Lets remember some of the actions of this wing of the party over the years. They stopped the SF/SDLP talks in 1986. Hume and Adams had to go it alone. They met with the UDA for short term political gains in 1992. The argued against the Hume/Adams talks in 1993. They forced Brid Rodgers to take on SF in west tyrone. The day after the 2001 general election blamed Hume/Mallon and called for new leadership. So with this wing of the SDLP in ascendcy they will need more than confidence to win over nationalist votes.

    I still confidently predict that SF will take seven seats at the Westminster Election.

    On the Gerard Diver defecting talks I know that he has been scathing of Durkan since the Assembly Elcetions and him looking for a new political home would not surprise me. I do not think that SF would touch him with a barge pole apparently and this is coming from SDLP sources he is a lazy so and so.

  • Scotty

    With all the bad publicity SF are getting right now Durkan is right to go for the throat – if the SDLP don’t do it now they will never do so.

    People should wake up smell the coffee as this is the only party that will achieve a UI with the unionist’s on board.

  • El Matador

    Hear, hear scottie. That is why the SDLP will be ultimately successful. They are the only party that can deliver a truly united Ireland, not a simply geographic one forced at gunpoint

  • J Kelly

    Elmat and scotty for the record are yous Nationalist Post Nationalist or the new phrase International Republicans. It must have been some crack at the City Hotel all weekend when the SDLP won all them votes back. Sorry I forgot the election is not until May. How many time can yous wave bye bye to John and Seamus or is it a bit of using them as a lifebelt.

  • New Yorker

    I can confirm that SDLP confidence is getting major encouragement during the SDLP leadership visit to the US. Last night there was an excellent reception at which Durkan and Hume spoke. The consensus among the just two hundred guests was that “the tide has turned” because of the evident evolution of SF/IRA into a brutal criminal mafia. And, yesterday was just their first day in the US and the first city. Any of those with lingering romantic notions of the RM cannot square those once held notions with the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank job and the accompanying lies. The SDLP leadership US visit will bolster support over here and, conversely, make this a very cold house for SF/IRA. And, as you know, we have a degree of influence on what goes on in the country of our ancestors.

  • DerryTerry

    Seeing as it now appears that the only allegations that can be leveled on this site are anti republican allegations that are based on “evidence” that none of us have seen I will approach the SDLP’s uncomplicated message in another way.

    Imagine, hypothetically, that since the SDLP have embarked on a campaign of smearing republicans as criminals, and one of those making the allegations turned out to have himself links to criminal activity in the Derry area would that association be enough for him to be expelled from the SDLP? If it is then i would say fair play to the SDLP’s Untouchables.

    However, and again we are speaking hypothetically of course, if such an individual were to remain as a very powerful and influential figure within the SDLP in Derry does this not leave the SDLP leader Mark Durkan, himself a Derry man who would have knowledge of these links, open to charges of at best weakness and incompetence, and at worse hypocrisy.

  • George

    As for the SDLP being the only party capable of convincing unionists of the benifits of a united Ireland, don’t make me laugh. I couldn’t imagine Durkan as a minister never mind as the architect of some future unification processs.

    I can see it now, the Irish Times headline in December 2005 as the GFA is finally implemented in full:

    “Paisley and Durkan shake hands on historic deal broadcast live on TG4”

    PS: how many northerners even read the Irish Times, it’s hard enough to get outside of the Pale.

  • Mick Fealty

    Derry Terry,

    On what precise basis do you say this?

    “…it now appears that the only allegations that can be leveled on this site are anti republican allegations that are based on ‘evidence’ that none of us have seen”.

    I previously removed an oblique reference to the alleged whereabouts of the alleged killer of Robert McCartney. The contributor in question raised the issue of its disappearance directly with me by email.

    As I explained to him, the bottom line is I don’t intend being dragged into court by the irresponsibility of contributors who are happy to make use of the facilities here, but who:

    1 can’t/won’t use independently verifiable information or

    2 can’t/won’t reveal their own real identities so that they take the heat when it comes to sharing time in court.

    I’m not prepared to let such people use Slugger to personally target political opponents, and then stand back and let Slugger take all the flak!

    You may not like the nature of the current newsflows. I appreciate that there’s a lot of heat on Republicans at the moment, and clearly on an unprecidented scale.

    But that’s what’s out there! The alternative is that we ignore it! But then what value would Slugger’s thousands of readers put on our output?

    There’s little I (or anyone here on Slugger) can do about it: except to give people the right of reply and (if they’ll take it) a platform with which to fight back!

  • Fairybadmother

    If the Shinners really are after Gerry Diver (and not in a bad way…) it might be because they recognise him as the only one worth poaching from the SDLP. Put alongside the rack of vegetables that passes for political representation in that organisation he’s the only standout in Derry. Which explains, rather, why his colleagues in the SDLP might be happy to bad mouth him and complain.

    Anyone who saw Durkan’s performance on QuestionTime last week knows his number’s up. Given the chance to put Martin McGuinness away he completely fluffed it…droning on in his usual paragraphs. The words ‘piss-up’ and ‘brewery’ leap to mind. Given the Provos current political problems, he doesn’t even have to try, but hands up anyone who can actually recall Durkan on a live programme land a punch.

    Nope, didn’t think so….