Ritchie: “If the other parties (SF & DUP) go the other way, they will pay a heavy price…”

For those of you worried we’ve been obsessing too much on the wrong things, I should say it is part of our plans to attend the SDLP annual conference in Newcastle this year, in light of the fact they are about to change leaders… It remains to be seen whether that will have any effect on the main political game… They’ve been parked down a Peace Process™ alley for most of the last ten years… Today we have a piece from one of the two main candidates, Margaret Ritchie which focuses mainly on the party’s theoretical loss of an Executive seat (if the SF/DUP deal is done) leaving them out of the loop: By Margaret Ritchie MLA

Four decades ago, people from across the north united and marched in support of civil rights to end discrimination and build a fairer society. They were beaten off the streets, interned and harassed. Many of those brave people went on to form the SDLP.

While in many ways things have moved on a great deal, in 2010 the principles upon which our party was founded are as important and relevant as ever.

The DUP/ Sinn Fein axis stumbles from crisis to crisis. They are now trying to do a deal which will deny the nationalist people a seat in government to which they are democratically entitled. The truth is that a nationalist vote will be worth less than a unionist or Alliance one if the two largest parties set aside the Good Friday Agreement during these talks about Policing and Justice.

If the Good Friday Agreement is set aside by the DUP and Sinn Fein to deny the SDLP its seat, we will have lurched backwards, and the hard-won safeguards put in place to protect the rights of both sides of our community will have been abandoned.

That a nationalist MLA could be denied the Justice Ministry because Sinn Fein negotiated away this right is not just a denial of the SDLP’s mandate, it is an act of outstanding political and social discrimination- the epitome of inequality.

I fully support the devolution of Policing and Justice. However, efforts by the two biggest parties to hand the Alliance Party a seat at the Executive for which the have no mandate, is an echo of the discriminatory politics of the old Stormont regime. That’s why the SDLP wants d’Hondt to be run again in the new 11-seat Executive, which will include a Justice Minister, so nationalists and unionists can have confidence that this is an Executive which is fair and truly representative of both communities.

I want to send out a warning to the DUP and Sinn Fein. As a prospective Leader of the SDLP, I simply cannot accept nationalists being under-represented in the Executive. There is no possible justification for the current 6-4 unionist advantage being extended to 7-4 when by any democratic standards, it should close to 6-5. The SDLP will not tolerate such discrimination and we will not support any party, nationalist or unionist, who seeks to introduce it.

In addition the SDLP will not stay silent on a U-turn on Parading. Again the hard-earned progress on parading must not be lost to political expediency. The Parades Commission itself must not be sacrificed just so that the DUP can be seen to deliver a head on a plate to the hard-liners.

It is a fact that the DUP and Sinn Fein are increasingly shackled together in an atmosphere of shame and political dishonesty. Yet for all their cynicism we are actually at a juncture where the parties have the opportunity to move politics out of the mire.

But to do so they must do what is clearly right and just. They must say yes to the principle of respecting democratic party mandates and they must say no to any return to coat-trailing parades.

If they do so, under my leadership, they shall have the support and co-operation of the SDLP.

If the parties go the other direction, another cynical carve-up, further corrupting our democracy and ultimately undermining devolution, then they will pay a heavy price. The political tide is turning, so utterly fed-up are people with the failure of the DUP/Sinn Fein at the Centre.

If the parties go the cynical route they will also face determined opposition from the SDLP. We will not support a deal on just any terms.

As prospective Leader of the SDLP, I am, in consultation with the party membership, prepared to consider all options in the period ahead.

The SDLP is instinctively committed to partnership and progress and that will not change. But if the DUP and Sinn Fein continue to poison the Executive with cynicism and selfishness, then the question arises– can SDLP supporters accept a government that treats them like second-class citizens again?

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  • “They were beaten off the streets, interned and harassed”

    Police batoned protestors off the streets in Dublin in 1966 and Derry in 1968 but Margaret Ritchie is still blinded by the Civil Rights smokescreen. AFAIK there were no protests directed against discrimination by Nationalists, just against discrimination by Unionists. The latter had far more opportunities for the use of patronage but the same practice appears to have been a shared tradition.

    Dublin was prepared to act in tandem with Belfast in the early 60s but did a runner later when its own institutions were under threat.

  • tacapall

    Police batoned protestors off the streets in Dublin in 1966 and Derry in 1968 but Margaret Ritchie is still blinded by the Civil Rights smokescreen. AFAIK there were no protests directed against discrimination by Nationalists, just against discrimination by Unionists. The latter had far more opportunities for the use of patronage but the same practice appears to have been a shared tradition
    Posted by Nevin on Jan 21, 2010 @ 01:27 PM

    Nevin this is very ambiguous could you explain in laymans terms, what exactly you mean I just dont understand what you are saying.

  • granni trixie

    Ritchie stealing “a march” (geddit?) on Alaistair?

  • Very reassuring comments from Ritchie. It seems at last the SDLP is growing balls, so to speak. If this sets the tone for a Ritchie leadership, then there’s a good chance that the party will start to win back the respect and support of many nationalist voters who have become disillusioned in recent years.

  • joeCanuck

    I think Ritchie is correct. d’Hondt should be re-run. Will this end up in the Courts? Does the Act under which the Assembly was set up have anything to say?
    If d’Hondt is re-run, any pundit want to speculate the order in which posts will be allocated?

  • Here’s a brief snippet from the Dáil debate in May 1966; I presume you’re familiar with Derry’s baton twirlers in 1968. The international response to each was radically different.

    “Dr. O’Connell: Does the Minister agree that this baton-swinging democracy serves as a showpiece as suggested by the Taoiseach, when we have disturbances like this provoked by the police?
    Mr. B. Lenihan: The Deputy and certain other members of his Party appear to want to bring parliamentary democracy in Ireland into a state of anarchy in which anything might happen.”

    Lenihan was very clear about the threat from the mainly (militant and armchair) republican socialist rights campaign whereas Margaret Ritchie ignores the socialist intent to sweep away the institutions of government in Dublin and Belfast.

    John Hume, her former party leader, ignored the Unionist UK aspiration in his analysis so all that waffle about partnership and progress IMO is still essentially bogus.

  • Anywayyyy, back to the SDLP leadership contest…

  • Good piece by ‘Margaret Ritchie’ , looks like she has been spendig time reading Conal’s blog…..

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Nothing in the statement to show that Ms Ritchie is anything other than a political lightweight.
    This is a shame.
    The Nationalist/Republican community NEEDS a strong SDLP as a counter to balance to SF.

  • Drumlins Rock

    looks like yap yap yap to me.

  • FitzjamesHorse, what were you expecting? Did you think she was going to call for the SDLP to set up a paramilitary wing?

    Drumlins, if you want the SDLP to roll over and let the DUP and Sinn Fein give their seat to another party, then I’d suggest Margaret isn’t the woman for you. It’s called standing up for your rights.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Occasional…….there are many who think the SDLP is the political wing of the Irish National Teachers Organisation.
    Ms Ritchie looks a bit like a schoolteacher.
    Sounds even more like one.

  • joeCanuck

    FJH,

    I’m guessing you got disciplined a lot at school.
    If not, why are you slandering teachers?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Canuck,
    I mentioned Teachers on three occasions
    1 “there are many who think” (did not indicate I was one or not) SDLP is political wing of the INTO is a much quoted remark in the dark ages.

    It is not therefore slander…..or libel.

    My opinion that Ritchie “looks” like a schoolteacher or “sounds” even more like one would not be considered slanderous or libllous.

    If you consider it in any way offensive to be likened to a schoolteacher, perhaps that says more about you than me.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    The SDLP are right to kick up a stink about what the DUP and Sinn Féin are doing with regard to d’Hont and the allocation of the P/J ministry.

    Some people seem to think they can make up the rules as they go along to suit themselves.

  • Reader

    Margaret Richie: They were beaten off the streets, interned and harassed. Many of those brave people went on to form the SDLP.
    In which case they formed the SDLP at least a year before they were interned.
    Panic: Some people seem to think they can make up the rules as they go along to suit themselves.
    They can. And if the P&J appointment isn’t going to be subject to cross community agreement, it isn’t going to happen.

  • joeCanuck

    FitzjamesHorse,
    You must have had a sense of humour bypass when I wasn’t looking.

  • I have considerable sympaythy for the SDLP position.

    The Northern Ireland Constitution adopts d’hondt under section 18 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It would require the Westminster Parliament to legislate to enable the ministry to be taken by the Alliance Party.

    In one sense, this is a St. Andrews Mark 2. In another, it is not. It is not the same because St. Andrews was necessary to save the Good Friday Agreement. A variation of d’hondt to facilitate P & J certainly is not.

    If there is to be any amendment to the Good Friday agreement this time, surely it would be entirely appropriate to have a referendum or a fresh Assembly election before the New Ministry is devolved, otherwise Ritchie can rightly and legitimately claim that the UK Government is riding roughshod over GFA.

  • Since the SDLP has nominated Margatret Ritchie for this position, is she actuially daying that if she is not made Minister for Justice, she will withdraw as Minister for Social Development?

    Is Margaret is serious about this, is she seeking to be Minister for P&J as well as party leader? How could she do both?