Why is the SDLP still wet-nursing Johnny-Come-Lately converts to Policing & Justice?

After playing the unofficial bag carriers to a larger constitutency rival, Tom Kelly argues in Monday’s Irish News that the SDLP would be better off prosecuting their case from the backbenches and that their ‘opposition in government’ is failing badly…

the real challenge of the week lies at the door of the SDLP’s Ormeau Road HQ or in the in-trays of the two pretenders for the SDLP crown of thorns. For some the forthcoming SDLP leadership election is an internal party political debate but, truly, only the politically devotional, deluded or desperate can believe that. The issue of the criminal justice system and the devolution of its powers loom ominously not only over the heads of the political process but of the architects of that process – the SDLP.

There is an expectation that some of the architects within the SDLP are still so in love with their design (and designers) that they will once again roll over and settle for a belly tickle from the political establishment for accepting their lot as good sons of the Belfast Agreement. This policy was always geared for about as much political success as the British strategy to exit Afghanistan.

But why is the SDLP still wet-nursing Johnny-Come-Lately converts some 11 years after the agreement? As one commentator put it, “the SDLP, having no umbilical cord to either sectarianism or terrorism, have somehow evolved into political guardians to the offspring of both camps”.

Increasingly the SDLP appear to spare the blushes of Sinn Fein in their fractious and at times subservient relationship to the DUP by providing a much-needed pan-nationalist political fig leaf. By perpetuating the bridesmaid role they have blurred their demarcation lines with Sinn Fein and the electorate has interpreted this as a willingness to play second fiddle to an all tin whistle band.

In terms of electoral benefit this policy is a bankrupt as the coffers of an Irish bank.

Unless the lure of ministerial Skodas is just too appealing, whoever leads the SDLP must decide sooner rather than later whether one ministerial seat still justifies their continued presence in the northern executive.

Ambitious SDLP young Turks would be better suited to cutting their teeth on the opposition benches. The ‘opposition in government’ strategy as a junior partner is too complex a farce for the public to understand and looks like shadow-boxing. Having rattled the cages and, despite warnings not to take them for granted, the SDLP has tended to bark rather than bite.

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