Mr. Mark Durkan answers questions from the readers of Slugger O’Toole.

Mark Durkan answers the three questions forwarded to me and chosen by Mick

  • kensei

    On my question, the problem for me is that its strong when pointing to the past — the SDLP undoubtedly did have a significant role in mapping thinking, particularly Hume, so it is possible but weak on the future — it’s all pretty vague, “working the institutions” ex-ceter-a. And given how things are changing, there is no guarantee the same conditions will allow them the same influence. But a smart answer and better than I expected.

    I wish you had used the resigning question though :P. It was somewhat cheeky, but there is a serious point in as to what defines success and failure. Political parties and leaders need nailed down with concrete goals. Else they drift. Rather like the SDLP has done.


    Thanks Mick for putting my question about North Belfast forward. It was criminal that the SDLP could let people like Brian Feeney and Martin Morgan go in North Belfast and the party there has suffered badly since. They had a personal vote and could get votes in the working class areas of the constituency which will take a lot of work to recapture. The SDLP appear quite happy to concentrate on the Castle Catholics and to hell with the plebs down the road but that will be their downfall. Many many people in the inner city have totally lost faith with Sinn Fein whose entire point of being seems to be to represent the Republican heirarchy ONLY. I have flitted between both over the years but would like to see the SDLP get their hands dirty again and get back into these areas. Sinn Fein have NO real competition and have become bloated, arrogant and totally detached from the so called constituency they say they represent. The inept, incompetent negotiating skills of Sinn Fein within the Executive and their bullying antics towards the Andersonstown News have turned me off them for good. They have become the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm where all Nationalists are equal BUT some are more equal than others. Certain Republicans are too busy managing and worrying about their stocks, shares, property & land portfolios than the problems in North & West Belfast. The conflict was a BIG con as many of the families who suffered and watched their loved ones go into a grave will now testify. Until the SDLP starts trying to establish a foothold in North & West Belfast they will ALWAYS be considered a Derry & rural based party AND Sinn Fein will profit without having to do too much. No wonder the DUP looks and acts like the cat with the cream given the very very poor Nationalist representation on the benches opposite. Would John Hume and Seamus Mallon not make a comeback?

  • Tir Eoghain

    Good Dying words from a failed Political ‘party’.

    I’m glad they have mouthpieces like Mark, alex Delorous and Margeret to help them , for they know their days are numbered.

    Do they still class themselves as Repiblican.

  • Billy


    Some very valid points, there.

    I agree that Sinn Fein certainly haven’t done too much for the people of West Belfast. However, the SDLP have only themselves to blame for their current plight.

    I was born and raised in West Belfast and I’m afraid that the SDLP took people for granted there and earned their reputation as a middle-class party.

    When Sinn Fein came along, they mobilised youth very effectively and, frankly, were a lot better organised and more professional than the SDLP.

    Sinn Fein have indeed been exposed by the DUP. However, not only are the SDLP not in a position to take advantage – they are going backwards.

    Brian Feeney was one of their most effective people and he was driven out for not being “on message”. Ditto for Martin Morgan – a very effective and, more to the point, younger person which the SDLP really need.

    Alban McGuinness is a very clever man but frankly he embodies the typical SDLP image of old, middle-class and stand offish. He’s not got a lot in common with the people whose votes he’s trying to win.

    McDonnell is even worse, pompous and self-centred. He only gets elected because of a split Unionist vote and has nothing in common with the working class people. Remember when he went against his own party and accepted the deputy mayor position in Belfast City Council when anti-Catholic discrimination was rampant there. I’ve no doubt whose interests he will look after.

    On the recent Hearts + Minds, a young SDLP member claimed that the party had a vibrant youth wing. Well, I’ve not seen any evidence of that.

    As far as I can see, if anyone challenges the “authority” of Durkan, Ritchie, McDonnell etc – thay are at best disciplined or at worst expelled.

    Frankly, if the SDLP are going to stick with the failed “leadership” of Durkan and his old guard of cronies, they will just continue to fade away and will eventually die.

    Their only hope is to get some young people with fresh ideas and let them start to take the lead. Even if they did so, that will take time to come to fruition.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s a runner anyway. The current “leadership” are clearly most interested in defending their own lucrative positions – despite their dismal record of failure and won’t tolerate anyone with original ideas (or shock horror!, charisma) who may be a threat to them.

    I would love Nationalists to have a real viable alternative to Sinn Fein. However, they don’t.

    That’s why, despite Sinn Fein’s really poor performance of late, they will continue to get the vast majority of Nationalist votes. They are the better option of a poor choice.

    As for the SDLP, I guess they drift on for a while with an ever declining vote until they finally disappear.

    It’s a pity but when the leadership stifle youth, talent and alternative opinions in their party (due to their own well founded insecurity about the abysmal job they have done), the outcome is inevitable.

    The sad thing is that it’s the Nationalist voters who lose out.

  • Comrade Stalin


    The SDLP appear quite happy to concentrate on the Castle Catholics and to hell with the plebs down the road but that will be their downfall.

    Given that Morgan and Feeney both live in the leafy upper part of the [edited]area, alongside Alban Maginness and a couple of other senior SDLP activists, aren’t they pretty much the epitome of the Castle Catholic mentality ?

    I’d like to see Seamus Mallon come back, he was one of the heroes of the original GFA talks. Hume we can all do well without, the man essentially delayed the GFA by five or six years with his attitude at the Brooke talks.

    The main message I’m getting from your contribution is that tribal politics is failing on the ground, and I think the reality is starting to get through. Do you still see the world as an choice between the SDLP and SF, or could you conceive voting for a party which did not have it’s nationalist colours on display, eg the NI Labour Party ?

  • Jer

    What struck me about Mark’s interview was how the SDLP seem to be struggling to figure out where they fit into the new post GFA world.
    Prior to GFA they know exactly but post is a bit uncertain. Can, as noted several times on this site, they establish a new narrative based on where we will be in 5 years rather than where we were 5 years ago.

  • J Kelly

    Mark Durkan as leader of the SDLP since 2001 cannot speak of one single achievment in his time at the helm rather we hear him go on about the “civil rights party” 40 years ago, the party that never changed through the conflict 15 years ago, the party that shaped the GFA 11 years ago. People may criticise Sinn Fein but at the moment they are the party that are relevant and if the SDLP are to come back and chalenge them Alban McGuinness is not the way to do it. A middle class, pompous barrister will hardly do much in the bogside, camlough, lower falls or cappagh.

    If Mark Durkan was serious about a comeback he should have run someone with a bit of crediblity with ordinary working people in these serous economic times. Not even a party member but someone in the wider nationalist community that would have given the a bit news worthiness for a day or two. Alban McGuinness will hardly excite the media or the voters for that matter. This choise tells me alot about the sdlp today no imagination, no dynamism, no courage and no leadership. Simply boring and past their sell by date.


    Couple of points, Alban Magennis is a thoroughly decent fella who is very approachable about problems in North Belfast. His office is in the lower Antrim Road so I am not having a go at him. He might be a middle class barrister however he will listen to you and give you time if you approach him BUT he does he seems to be ploughing a lonely furrow there without much support from headquarters. It was scandalous that Brian Feeney and Martin Morgan were allowed to walk away from the party in North Belfast as they had a lot to contribute as I recall Brian standing with residents on interfaces long before Sinn Fein did. YES CS I would consider voting for a candidate who fought on social issues alone.

  • DC

    I can’t see the video as can’t update the player in work, what questions were put to Durkan?

    Also, I find Mark Durkan to be a bit like Berbatov, a decorator on the field of political play, not a creator or driver of new ideas. A useful finisher; useful at political decoration with his nice soundbites and catchphrases – although too many of them tends to show up a certain degree of shallowness if not followed by sincere political action (take the ugly scaffolding remark that folded in on itself once the shinners got snotty about it); so, more needs to be generated and lead-on by someone with a bit more grit and positive deviance. Especially if the SDLP are to overcome the combined nuisance of SF-DUP, who are nothing if not utterly ruthless at exploiting the grievances that fester.

    And the SDLP need to make up their minds whether they are democratic nationalists with a plan to attract unionists, or social democratic and labour with a more contemporary view on globalisation and job creation as per, for example, New Labour.

    Until they settle that dilemma they will become something akin to Alliance – an arrested development, conflicted on points that could offer potential progress and a way out of this sticky situation.