PROMINENT nationalist commentator and SDLP member Tom Kelly has accepted an OBE from the Queen. Naturally, Sinn Fein has leapt on this apparent breach of SDLP policy, which the Deputy Leader has defended, to attack the party. The Irish News notes the “SDLP’s attitude to members receiving honours from the Queen appears to have softened”.Will Scholes provided some background, for those without subs to the Irish News:
A party spokesman said it was a matter of conscience whether members accepted honours.
“This was a personal decision for Tom which I am sure he took after a lot of discussion with his family and close friends,” he said.
Only one elected SDLP representative holds a royal honour.
Castlereagh councillor Rosaleen Hughes has an OBE, though this is not mentioned in a profile of her on the party’s website.
Other SDLP representatives have previously faced heavy criticism for accepting honours.
Hugh Casey, a former Lurgan councillor, resigned after accepting an MBE in 1994.
He had received backing from Mark Durkan, the party’s national chairman at the time, to accept the award because it was for his community work and not political involvement. But he left the SDLP after claiming he had been ostracised by some of the party.
In 1988 Mary McSorley, a former chairman of Magherafelt District Council, also resigned from the SDLP after accepting an OBE, claiming she had been “forced out”.
One of the SDLP founders, Gerry Fitt, was much criticised by the party when he accepted a peerage in 1983. Another SDLP founder, Paddy Devlin, accepted a CBE in 1999. Unnamed nationalist politicians turned down honours, offered in recognition of their work in securing the Good Friday Agreement, in the 1999 new year’s honours list.
Sinn Fein believes that nationalists should not accept awards which make them members of the British empire.