And from last year’s news…

Missed this little gem from last year’s marching season, which features accusations that the SDLP had “drifted from a nationalist agenda”, simply because a survey showed that amongst Orangemen “5% were ‘likely’ to vote SDLP and that 13.5% said it was ‘possible’ they’d give the SDLP a second preference”. Ach, it was all so much simpler then!

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  • Definatly before SDLP youth started knee jerking in a way that would make even a hardened shinner blush, IKEA and up market Orange Hall indeed.

  • I’m not sure why this is ‘news’ as the SDLP have always attracted votes from the Unionist community. It’s the reason why Mark Durkan still holds the Westminster seat for Foyle, because they mounted a deliberate campaign to attract thousands of votes from The Waterside.

    Of course, there is always a price to pay for your abandoning your core identity and the SDLP are now paying that price in a big way as Sinn Fein have totally (and possibly permanently) eclipsed them in overall electoral terms.

  • Cruimh

    Let’s see what happens in the next elections Mac – SF quite possibly have peaked in NI. For a start they have no more rabbits to pull out of the beret!

    Of course as one stalwart said, in certain areas all that has to be done is for a donkey to have a tricolour pinned on it and it will be elected , but the shinners won’t get far with that core hardline republican vote.

  • Mick Fealty


    you may be right in the first assertion, but I would check the 2005 Foyle figures before going any further down the second road. It was the Culmore Road wot won it, which forty years of ‘trouble’ and segregation have ensured is almost completely Unionist free!

  • Cruih,

    Your talking bollocks as usual. (with the greatest of respect ! ).

    It’s the middle classes who also now vote for Sinn Fein in their tens of thousands. (ie the doctors, lawyers, barristers etc amongst the broader Nationalist community). I converse with many such people on a regular basis.

  • Mick,

    I accept your point that SF didnt poll as well in certain areas as was expected, however the SDLP had carefully (and to give them their dues) created a well structured election campaign giving great pre-publicity to the fact that they were out to attract thousands of Unionist votes. SF workers in the city later did some analysis which concluded that a sizeable number of ‘floating’ and undecided Nationalist voters had come to the conclusuion that Durkan was going to win anyway and gave him their vote.

    He won that particular battle fair and square, but the SDLP have fallen a huge distance behind SF in the wider electoral ‘war’ for the hearts and minds of the Nationalist community and I feel that the high-quality performance level of performance currently being delivered by SF Ministers will only increase that gap still further…

  • Mick Fealty


    You would help the debate by referring to facts and evidence to support your assertion. Otherwise you give the possibly false impression of just looking for a single transferable ruck, whichever thread you appear on.

  • Cruimh

    Mac – if I was talking o you I’d probably claim to vote SF as well, especially if you had some of those famous SF election workers with you 😉

    but to be serious – what you wrote does not disprove my point. Sure lots of nice middle class folks who previously wouldn’t have voted SF gave them a vote – because of the rabbits you were pulling out of the beret! BUT you don’t have any more rabbits – decommissoning has happened, disavowal of criminality and support for policing – thought it’s disgusting that SF glorify the murder of 3 coppers in this weeks AP.

    So – your complacency in assuming that thse people will always vote SF shows the same weakness that we saw in the ROI.

    Let’s be frank – the last Westminster elections were great for the DUP and only so-so for SF.

    “The results of this election were very good for the DUP, now by far the largest party in Northern Ireland and with half of the parliamentary seats in their camp. For Sinn Fein it marked consolidation rather than advance; though their vote was up on the 2001 Westminster election it was only about the same as for the Assembly election in 2003 and down from the European election in 2004.

  • Token Dissent

    mac, impressed that you move in such high circles.

    As Mick says the SDLP got a limited number of votes from Derry prods. (After all there are now a limited number of Derry prods full stop.) Its depressing enough that some see even a small degree of cross-community support as a dilution of “core identity”, what’s worse is that the broader electorate seems to agree.

  • Cruimh

    Mick – I made no assertion in my 11.05 – I suggested that SF MIGHT have peaked – it would only have been an assertion if I had written that they HAD peaked.

    so I think you owe me an apology for the snide remark.

  • Mick Fealty

    Maybe. Durkan is almost universally seen as a good hard working and sincere man, and is well respected by most people across party boundaries, even, I suspect, amongst people in Sinn Fein.

    He certainly put the work in for what turned out to be a fairly easy victory in the end. But as I said in a thread on Friday, if he and his party are to remain in contention, they need a raison d’etre. And it can no longer be that ‘they are not Sinn Fein’.

    SF’s full blooded engagement with democracy (without external paramilitary aids) is the SDLP’s Molyneax moment. Is a peace only political process the biggest threat to the party’s future existence? Or its biggest opportunity?

    Whatever arguments can be made over SF penetration of the middle classes, there is still a huge swathe of nationalist voters who won’t consider voting for them, and it has little to do with relative positions on the constitution. If the SDLP cannot renew their own discrete space, many of them may likely be lost to the uber nationalist electorate.

  • Cruimh

    Is it possible that this could be the APNI chance ?

  • Mick-

    You’re losing your touch. For some of us bloggers, this is ancient history 😉

  • Mick,

    I think there is actually an important point in amongst all of this regarding voting patterns within Nationalism based on ‘class’ grounds. I suspect that amongst the broader media ‘family’here, there is perhaps a general lack of knowledge or recognition of how far SF has now attracted many votes from those deemed to be in the ‘middle classes’ and above.

    With the possible exception of South Belfast, Sinn Fein has made huge inroads into the Nationalist middle-class vote in virtually every other area of the North, both rural and urban. Perhaps the ultimate proof of that will be if they finally capture South Down in the next Westminster election. The recent Assembly elections would indicate that such a scenario is now more of a probability than a possibility.

  • Dewi

    Mac – are u considering ending Westminster abstentionism ? Would that have some effect on middle class support ? Isn’t it a tactic that has had it’s day ?

  • lib2016


    My impression is that it is the ‘new’ Catholic and post-Catholic middleclass which has taken Sinn Fein into the surburbs. The old ‘castle Catholics’ (or constitutional nationalists if you prefer that term) largely still support the SDLP.

    Has anybody done any publically acessible research on where the SF vote comes from? I’m almost sure I’ve seen a reference to the fact that the SDLP vote hasn’t fallen but have no time to look it up now.

  • lib2016


    Way back (in 77?) Fitt refused to support the Callaghan government and stood by as it was defeated. You completely misunderstand how little faith the SDLP and the Catholic middleclass have in Westminster.

    That’s why they don’t bother showing up in a Parliament which is becoming irrelevant to what happens here. Policy for NI is now decided in Washington and Brussels, mostly as a result of Hume’s networking with the enthusiastic assistance of the Dublin government.

  • Mick Fealty


    Policy for NI is now decided in Washington and Brussels, mostly as a result of Hume’s networking with the enthusiastic assistance of the Dublin government.


    As for the “SDLP vote hasn’t fallen”, it has fallen all over the place, hence their eclipse by SF. But according to Brian Feeney (sometime last year, I think) their voters are not going anywhere else. They are just stopping voting.

  • Lib 2016,

    I would disagree with your assertion that the old ‘Castle Catholics’ supported the SDLP. From my own personal experience and encounters, most of them were either Unionists or Alliance supporters. (and still are….).

    The younger generation of middle-classes though have assumed a much more potently Nationalist perspective. I have an old school friend who is now a Barrister and virtually all of his young Catholic colleagues within The Bar are Sinn Fein supporters.

    The SDLP was never in my opinion a socialist party, despite both John Hume’s many assertions to the contrary and also their many European Parliamentary Socialist alliances. They drew their support primarily from the Catholic middle-classes.

    That support base is now being eroded and one must now ask, where exactly do the SDLP go from here? Do they swing to the left and compete for the working -class Nationalist vote or do they just become more Republican in idealogical terms and compete with Sinn Fein on all fronts, regardless of class factors? I am not convinced that either route will yield them renewed success, hence my doubts over their long-term future.


    There is absolutely no chance whatsoever of Westminster seats being taken. The party now has 4 ministers within the local assembly here and necessary liaison with Westminster is completed via those channels. There is no need or even a remote desire within any part of SF to take such a controversial step.

  • Cuchulainn

    on that Brian Feeney note, id say i would almost agree with them, the sdlp vote hasnt switched to SF, its a case as they have stopped voting. I think that the SDLP are going to work hard on getting thier votes out, and re-gaining from the Shinners

    has for the SDLP getting wipe out, even Brian Feeney has said that there will always be a role for them to play, and i think that the last election is as far down as thier vote will go. look to the European Election for a re-emergence so to speak, i think tey will gain a seat there, at the expence of the Unionists

  • StarHound

    I’m slightly bemused by all the chin scratching over who votes for Sinn Féin – the fact is that many ordinary, decent people vote Sinn Féin and those who currently can’t deal with this are just going to have get over it. Ian Paisley seems to have managed it.

    There is no mystery to it and there are no scary mysterious people who materialise only at election time – they are working with you, living next door to you etc etc


    Your praise for Mark Durkan seems a bit odd – “almost universally seen as a good hard working and sincere man, and is well respected by most people across party boundaries, even, I suspect, amongst people in Sinn Fein”

    The SDLP, and Durkan in particular, have almost completely disappeared from sight. Durkan may be sincere and dedicated, but I think he is generally ineffectual and doing nothing to confront the range of problems that the SDLP faces. Margaret Ritchie is doing well in the DSD but I think that this is a bit of a red herring when considering the SDLP’s future.

    The SDLP need a strong leader and a strong message at the moment – they have neither. The merger with Fianna Fáil is still the elephant in the room for them.

  • SDLP have proved to be a one person party, since John Hume left them they seem to have self-destructed and suffer from a crisis of identidy. The youth wing is unswervingly republican, the older rmembers of the party swear blind they are actualy Socialist/Nationalist and even have a few prods in the group, and the middle aged members seem to swing to either camp dependong on who they listened most recently to.

  • Cuchulainn

    i think that the SDLP is not in the such downbeat position that SF wish they were.

    Margaret Richie is doing an extremly good job, and to be honest she is the face of the SDLP at the moment. and i think maybe some1 that the party can build round for the next assembley election

    what happened the sdlp decline is simple, they had thier big 5 dissapper from the main scene in a space of a year

    John Hume, Sheamus Mallon, Doroles Kelly, Eddie McGardy and Denis Haughey were all gone within 2 years of eachother and they havent really recovered,

    i think now they will start getting more people to the forefront and partys profile is rise again

  • Pounder,

    I both agree and disagree with some of your comments.

    I firstly agree with you that the SDLP have, in Electoral terms, become perceived as very much a one-person party. For several years, Durkan’s ego allowed him to do just about every single television appearance represnting his party, whereas other parties like Sinn Fein and The DUP have regularly put forward a variety of different members before television audiences. Durkan increased his personal profile, but at great expense to that of his party.

    I would disagree with you however that the youth wing of the SDLP is “unswervingly Republican”. One only has to look at some of the comments of the young SDLP councillors who were elected to Derry City Council last time around.

    The SDLP has a weakening core support with the possible exceptions of Derry, South Belfast and South Down. SF have targetted South Down first and look like they may have won the battle there. That just leaves the somewhat irrelevant South Belfast constituency and finally Derry, which is the jewel in the SDLP’s crown. In the end though, even if the SDLP are still left with just Derry, it may prove to be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things…

  • Cuchulainn

    i would totally disagree that the sdlp youth party is “unswervingly republican”, they would be nationalists who believe in an united ireland, but along sdlp lines, unlikessome of the hardcore OSF members who still want to take up arms and attack the police, the “born 3 generations 2 late man”

    i disagree with SF winning in south Down, i think that Margaret was always under the shadow of Eddie McGrady, but she as def side step him since becoming an executive member, and IMO she is getting better profile that CR.

    i do agree that Durkan for 2 long took all the attension from the party, but he needed to build his profile,

    today the SDLP have Mark, Alistor Mcdonnell and Margaret Richie,look for other members to make a jump up like Patsy Mcglone and doleores kelly.

  • lib2016


    I know no Northern nationalist old enough to remember, either SDLP or Shinner, who believes that the Brits went along with the Peace Process willingly. Washington (and behind the scenes Brussels) gave them no alternative.

    You may remember Major’s little sulk at the very idea of republican leaders especially Cahill visiting America. Without that visit there would have been no process. And that’s only one of many examples.

    On the other hand I plead guilty to a verbal inexactitude about Sinn Fein gaining votes at the expense of the SDLP. You are quite correct. The SDLP vote stayed at home or died of old age. I do still claim that Sinn Fein have the support of younger nationalist voters.


    And not just in the Law Courts. The leadership of all the professions is increasingly republican. Some, mind you are ‘Bertie’ republicans though I’ve yet to hear one with a good word for Harney. The result of all those years when clever unionists talked about Britain as ‘the mainland’. Where did they expect their ‘best and brightest’ to head for?

  • William Cosgrave

    As a member of the SDLP it has been interesting reading allthi debate. I would just like to throw my ow fewpoints into the mix.

    Firstly, as for the SDLP Youth. I believe the nationalism of people within the Youth win varies from completely non-nationalist right through to far more romantic notions of Irishness and so on. The main issue with the youth, apart from the dreadful self-importance of some and cliquey atmosphere (admttedly probably there in all parties) is my own opinion that they are engaged in too much ‘save the whale’ and other irrelevant political campaigns. While very often their campaigns have very noble aims, they are always destined to be utterly ineffective and achieve nothing, aiming fay beyond their limit of influence. Given the struggle the pary has to engage upon against Sinn Fein and AlLiance I think very often they are a waste of resources and time.

    Secondly, as for the long term future of the SDLP, it is my own fear that the party are following the path walked down by the Cumann na nGaedheal party in the 1930s. The party disintegrated after the completion of a long term historical mission, led by a small clique of talented but disconnected leaders. The SDLP must ensure not to follow this path that leadership must consistently enage with the grassroots. In my own view this has begun to happen. With the strengthening of this process I hope we can then go out to the public, in parish halls or small function rooms and discuss the issues that matter to people.

    Finally, as for the point about merging with Fianna Fail. Can’t see it happening any time soon, and for the present I agree with the decision. Far better to have very good relationships with both the main parties and Irish Labour.

  • Boydy

    William Cosgrave,

    What a load of nonsense. I really have no idea what you mean when you say ‘save the whale’ and other irrelevant campaigns.

    SDLP youth consistently works on campaigns surrounding workers rights, global solidarity and equality. If you believe these campaigns to be irrelevant i think you’re in the wrong party.

    Given the current political climate in the north, the role of the youth group has never been more vital. The youth group needs to be seen as active and vibrant and to show the young people in this country that we recognise those issues which are relevant to them and which are completely separate from the national question.

  • The reason I consider the SDLP youth deeply republican is mostly from personal experience. For a start there was the whole IKEA debacle, then the flag in Limavady which would have been up for a whole 30 minutes. From personal experiences with younger SDLP member I’ve actually found them to be more rablidly republican than even the Shinners in the glencree conferences I attended with my former party.

  • Cuchulainn

    my experience from the youth party is that they are not so much republican, as they would be strongly nationalist.

    the difference between them and say OSF is that they can actually they look for the logical reaosn and answer to try brining that about, kinda like the way the SDLP was when Hume was heading it, the real pasaionate form of nationalism.

  • Long John Silver

    Boydy, of course all your aims are very noble and right and so on. Maybe I put myself badly. My problem is that massive global issues are not going to be influenced by the youth wing of the forth biggest party in Northern Ireland. The SDLP Youth needs to focus its efforts on very localised and small scale problems. It is they who, instead of camping outside whatever office it was and holding up anti-uniersity fee placards directed at Reg Empey (great results on that by the way), could go to some target constituency and knock on doors to re-engage with local populations. For example, North and West Belfast were very tight the last election. Carmel Hanna had some scary moments (and here is one area where SDLP voters, from my personal experience talking to people, have moved to Maskey for the work they percieve him to have done in addressing anti-social behaviour and other problems in Ardmore and Orchardville) and Super Mario McGuinness’ vote has consistently fell by a quite significant proportion in NB. We need people to go out and re-engage with those communities. West Belfast also, could quite possibly have 6 shinners in the not-too-distant future. The youth wing need to give up the time they can to target these areas, and specific communities within the consituencies to show we too have a presence. Then the main party needs to work to help resolve any solveable problems that come up.

    The role of the youth group is indeed vital, but not in fighting battles taht should be fought by far more relevant groups, eg. Amnesty International or the trade union movement. By all means join those organisations and help them in their fights also, but the SDLP youth has to support and increase support for the main party, and keep alive a moderate nationalist, pro-european and centre-left party in Northern Ireland.

  • SuperStoopy

    Take your point to an extent, like many branches, the youth wing aren’t perfect. But do you really want young people in politics to be just mini versions of senior politicians? For many young people, things climate change or international development might be more of an interest than planning laws, and education fees are real concerns, so youth wings need to talk about other stuff beyond what the parent party are saying. And for many young activists, it’s a sideline to their main constituency work, and a bit of a sandpit to develop political ideas outside of winning elections and the little ulster mentality. You can’t talk of a centre left and European party on the one hand and dismiss campaigning activities at the same time.

    Of course they need to be out knocking doors, and they are, but you need to look at the bigger picture – there has to be messaging that attracts greater numbers of people to knock said doors. Otherwise we’d scrap the policy and press departments and have all those staff out knocking doors instead.

    I’m pretty sure I canvassed with you a few times round the election (with the youth group!) – wish you would have raised some these issues then or come along to a meeting and suggested alternatives, rather than rather than making patronising remarks on a public message board.

  • Long John Silver

    i did indeed canvass, and I wold again. But still, I am quite sceptical as to what a youth group actually provides for any of the Northern Irish parties. I fear that sometimes they take on too much of a life of their own and develop their own squabbles and debates and activity and so on. Even when working towards a nobl aim I fear they are ineffective. Not because the people involved are poor quality, just because there isn’t enough room for them to impart any important message to a significant amount of people. The amount of effort when compared to the amount of people who are actually helped or touched I think is out of kilter. Better to do this work, and to develop ideas about wider issues, through larger networks or groups, eg. amnesty international r something.

    I don’t think constituency work is totally or should be about winning elections and little ulster mentatlities. I think by going out as part of the main branch, talking to people about small scale problems such as childrens crossings or whatever, there are personal rewards for the individuals involved, and it should be done in some sort of spirit of civic service, not pure electioneering.

    still, the review process going on seems to be a real and good effort to develop the party postively. There are far wiser people than me organising the party, i totally accept that. was just throwing my two-pennies worth out on the site.

  • páid

    I see folk are still using the term ‘republican’ when they mean ‘extreme nationalist’.

    It’s a key point.

    The Catholics of NI are much like their kinsmen down South.

    Conservative, Nationalist. That’s it!

    Believe in social justice but not in the least bit lefty or republican.

    It’s all to play for.

  • Northern Star

    Ógra FF are organising in northern universities this year; theyve even got Derry and Belfast units organsing for their launch throughout the summer I believe. I think the SDLP would be best served by flirting with them and not Labour Youth; I voted SDLP but I am a Nationalist SDLP voter; our natural home is in FF. Anyone seen this yet