Ritchie launches SDLP leadership bid

Today it was Margaret Ritchie’s turn to formally launch her bid for the SDLP leadership.
Am told those present included Eddie McGrady, Brid Rodgers and MLAS; Tommy Gallagher, Thomas Burns, Carmel Hanna and Alex Attwood.
She majors on her vision for the North and a new Ireland.
Full speech below the fold.
Thank you, and thanks to each of you for coming here this morning for the launch of my campaign.
I want to speak to you about who I am, what I believe in and my vision for the future.
(And you will find more detail including many new ideas in the brochure I am circulating this morning)
In the last few weeks, I have received hundreds of messages of encouragement and support. From across the North, and beyond. From grassroots supporters and many outside the Party.
People who vote for us and some who want to be persuaded to vote for us again. I am grateful to them all.
If elected, it will be my honour to succeed Mark Durkan to whom we owe much. Mark will continue to be a first class MP and a powerful champion for Derry. I hope he will also be a key member of my top team.
I would also like to pay tribute here to former SDLP Ministers Denis Haughey and Brid Rodgers, here today, as committed to our cause as ever.
My South Down colleagues, Peter Craig and John Doris. Consummate organisers who taught me the importance of effective grassroots organisation.
Our many young councillors and activists, who go a long way to answering the lazy claim that the SDLP has no-one coming behind.
And then, of course, there’s my friend and mentor Eddie McGrady. Eddie will be a constant source of advice and support for me, because he always has been.
**********
For me, politics is all about people. People’s needs. People’s rights. Their worries. Their well being. Their aspirations. This wasn’t something I just learned in the SDLP. It is fundamental to who I am.
Both my parents were psychiatric nurses. I myself worked in a care home, where I saw humanity powerfully expressed in the devotion of the staff there, ensuring dignity for those in their care. I grew up in a family in which helping people was second nature.
That’s what brought me into the SDLP and has kept me there ever since.
And it’s what makes me want to lead the SDLP now.
As SDLP members, we can be deeply proud of everything this party has achieved. Peace. Equality. Fairness in housing and jobs. Power-sharing. North South. Reform of policing.
But let me be clear: what this party delivered thirty, twenty or even ten years ago is for the historians. My only interest is in what the SDLP is going to do now.
At this stage of our politics many commentators are asking searching but legitimate questions of the SDLP. What is the SDLP for? How is the SDLP different from its rivals? What is the big idea for the future?
I believe that as a candidate for the leadership of the SDLP, I have to present a vision that answers those questions.
I also believe that in order to build our organisation and attract new members, particularly young people, we need to present a Vision that they can buy into. It was John Hume’s vision that first inspired me – now we need to inspire the next generation.
I could have concentrated this speech on the vital organisational rebuilding that we need to do. But vision comes first – and ‘rolling up our sleeves’ and giving it a lash is not a vision.
My vision for the future starts with what we have yet to achieve.
Like it or not, despite our many successes, we have not delivered prosperity. We have not yet succeeded in reconciling the people of the North. And we have not achieved our goal of Irish Unity.
So it is clear to me that our work is far from done. We now need to focus on building our Economy, reconciling our Society and planning for Unity.

Turning to the Economy first…
We have already shown in devolution that we have stronger ideas for developing our economy – both in the North and throughout the wider island. And clear thinking to bring our region out of recession. But we have bigger plans: we want more economic independence from Britain – and ultimately our own taxation and welfare regimes. Northern Ireland needs to be able to retain the gains made through better economic management. We believe in devolution so we want more of it. Broadcasting and Telecoms too.
At the same time we want to deepen our North/South economic integration. And get serious about the green economy as a source of competitive advantage.
As a first step we will campaign for an all-island independent Environmental Protection Agency and a single all-island Regulator for Energy.
We are brimming with ideas. The SDLP will show people that we are the trailblazers on the economy.
And of course we believe ultimately, that unity is nearer when there is a strong confident economy in the North.

We not only want a strong economy we also want a strong Society
A Shared Future is a cornerstone of my agenda as Minister for Social Development. It will be a foundation stone for my leadership of the SDLP. The mutual tolerance and co-existence we currently have are not enough. That falls short of what our young people have every right to demand. We will aim higher. Not just by aspiring to genuine sharing and mutual respect, but by applying radical new ideas for making those things happen in Housing, Education, Regeneration, Community Funding and Cultural Expression. We know the cost of division. It deepens poverty, as well as prejudice.
I will engage meaningfully with the unionist community. Look them in the eye and tell them they can trust the SDLP and they can trust me. Our engagement will not be the patronising ‘outreach’ favoured by others who do not ultimately believe in sharing. Equal but separate is what satisfies others. It will never satisfy the SDLP. We want a Shared Future that is actually Shared. We have plenty to do. Not in drips and drabs but full steam ahead towards reconciliation and a truly shared society.

Again Irish Unity is nearer when the people of the North are reconciled.

**********
[United Ireland]
I believe in a United Ireland. Unambiguously.
I want to help achieve Unity in my lifetime. As SDLP Leader, I will work every day to lay the foundations upon which a United Ireland can be built – mutual trust, respect and protection for minorities , common purpose and shared endeavour.
I will take our unique ideas for achieving unity to the very heart of decision-making in Dublin. I will campaign hard for the establishment of a new all-party Commission with a clear remit to agree a modern, inclusive vision for a United Ireland. I will press every party in the South to sign up to the SDLP’s radical thinking on unity and our work will present people with the first detailed view of what Unity would look like – ever produced.
We have a major role to play in National politics on this island.
I will also strengthen the positive relationships we have with the main political parties in the South and recognise the realignment that may occur over time. But I will never sell the SDLP out.
Further, we will not promise Irish Unity by 2016 because it is the anniversary of the Easter Rising! Unlike others, we will be credible on Irish Unity.

************
Those will be the three pillars of my leadership, bound together in one coherent vision for the future. A prosperous increasingly independent economy that lifts the lives and wellbeing of all. A genuinely shared society for every citizen. And in time, a United Ireland.
We alone can deliver this vision. So we must make sure we are fit for purpose to deliver. That is why, as Leader, a top priority will be to rebuild the SDLP organisation.
People are ready to embrace a positive new agenda from the SDLP. We owe it to those who support us and to all those who might – to embrace change ourselves.
I am determined to drive through radical change in this party. At every level. In every constituency. Not just talking about what needs to be done, but getting on and doing it.

[Leading]
I will be a leader of courage and a driver of change. As Minister I have been tested many times, sometimes by formidable adversaries, and have always stood up to that test. My desire to help thousands of our most needy citizens prevailed against blanket opposition from our opponents. I have taken the initiative, publicly, on Shared Future while it has been bogged down by the DUP and Sinn Fein. I run the largest Department of Government with authority and purpose. I have punched above my weight in an Executive where we are completely outnumbered.
As a candidate here today – I have already passed the leadership test on behalf of my Party.

None of us is under any illusion about the scale of the challenges confronting our party.
But, together, we have it in us to meet those challenges and more.
Rising again – building on all we have achieved in our proud history, but focusing only on what we have to do now to reach the next horizon.
Spreading our vision and message
Re-building our Organisation
And always, always ..ahead of our opponents – smarter on the Economy; genuine about a Shared Future; Credible on Irish Unity.
I give you my word: all this and more will be my work. And it will be your work too. I ask for your support in this endeavour. Thank you