If there is a raging debate going on inside the SDLP it is barely obvious to those on the outside. Yesterday we noted Conall McDevitt laid down an elegant case for the SDLP going on its own. in yesterday’s Irish News, Brian Feeney argued that Mark Durkan’s ‘weakness and indecision’ as a leader is the primary political quality currently defining his party’s future:
After the SDLPs breakfast in bed with Fianna Fail at the Carrickdale, Fine Gael finally woke up to how real the courtship has become. It issued a statement saying any closer SDLP relationship with Fianna Fail would mean a fundamental rethink of Fine Gaels relationship with the SDLP. Whoo. Scary. Well that wouldnt take long given that Fine Gael has had next to no relationship with the SDLP.
What there was could best be described as mutual exasperation. In fact Fine Gael in the past has shown more affinity with the NIOs front party than northern nationalists.
Even so, Fine Gaels shot across the bows was enough to spook Durkan into remembering that there are two other parties to be reckoned with in the south. He reckoned hed better give them their place.
In that context Durkans afterthought about Labour and Fine Gael was downright insulting so both parties will correctly ignore him.
They will be well aware, even if Durkan is not, that the SDLP committee Durkan set up to consider all political options is his admission that the SDLP is dead. The party is over. In the words of the Monty Python sketch, it has ceased to be. A political party doesnt set up a committee to consider its own position.
Neither does Feeney think that there is any other serious suitors (there are some in Newry who will dispute at least one element of what follows):
There is no Labour element in the SDLP. Its a middle-class Catholic party. The party has no infrastructure in Newry. It has no members at all in most working-class districts of Belfast. We know Derry is just dying to go Fianna Fail. Besides, the SDLP leadership will not go out of business only to become the northern wing of a Stickie-led Labour Party in Dublin. They hope linking up with Fianna Fail will offer life after death to the party leaders but a link with Labour would be what Ian Paisley likes to call a Sadducees grave no resurrection.
Finally, he cites a knotty, but not necessarily insurmountable problem:
Whats holding up a decision, apart from Durkans inability to act decisively? Timing is one issue. The right moment to announce a FF/SDLP candidate for Europe next year but one who wont go down in humiliating defeat to Sinn Fein on the first outing. Secondly, since Fianna Fail will not contest British elections what on earth will become of the SDLPs Westminster seats? Alasdair McDonnell has long been an ardent advocate of Fianna Fail but he couldnt call himself a Fianna Fail candidate in the next British general election.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty