I’ve been on the road ever since spending the weekend with the SDLP at the Slieve Donard, so I’ll be writing up general impressions up tomorrow. For me (others may well disagree) the most interesting speech was that of the new deputy leader, not least for its direct (if rather folksy) style. Patsy McGlone certainly sounded like he was up for a fight. His speech, laced in places, with a cold Catholic morality, was an attempt to differentiate his party from Sinn Fein’s rather coercive pitch to unionists for a united Ireland. Instead he used the GAA as an exemplar of a virtuous social identity, which has a proven appeal to moderate unionists. Much in the way that Rugby has for Catholics.
….I grew up in South Derry, in a place called Newbridge, not far from where the Rover Moyola meets Lough Neagh. I went to school just up the road, in St Treas Primary School in Ballymaguigan, and then in the Rainey in Magherafelt.
My father owned a garage beyond this in the village of Ballyronan, and when I married I built a home further on up the Loughshore in Ballinderry, where my Mother is from. I am proud to be able to say that I have not just lived in these places, but that I am from these places and they make me who I am.
There is a sense of community that, in many ways, I have found to be unique to Ireland. The open and friendly nature of the people here is something special.
Growing up with such people all around me clearly instilled in me that strong identity, sense of belonging and community and a desire to help when I could, to do anything I could for someone in a difficult situation.
And when I joined the SDLP it was because I saw it as a party to deliver Irish unity and a party that would do what it could to help people. Whether it be standing up for the rights of those who were discriminated against. Or seeing the gun and bomb removed from Irish life. Or Education. Or job creation and investment. Or healthcare. Or planning and housing.
When leaders in the community, Roddy Gribbin, Big Henry Walls and Sean Cassidy came to me, I saw joining the SDLP as the natural choice for me. As it was for you all in this room. And those principles of the party have not changed over the years. But other things have.
The change that 2010 brings for the SDLP and the people of the North is immense.
The people of the North particularly young people, who may not have witnessed first hand the futility of the violence of our recent past, want to move beyond the old sectarianism.
Stop any man or woman in any street, or road, or lane and the issues that are important to them are the same as the issues that are important to someone in Cork, Galway or Dublin.
They know that there is work to be done.
The big house on the hill at Stormont has become detached from the real needs of society.
The current executive has been in place for more than two and a half years now. If you were to look at its output youd think it was in place for two and a half months.
The Executives failure to deliver under Sinn Féin-DUP control is a result of those two parties failure to work together.
They fear the future the Good Friday Agreement promised because they remain parties of conflict, not reconciliation.
I couldnt care less if Robinson and McGuinness are friends. What I care about is the government of the north delivering on the issues that affect people on the ground. That affects my constituents, my neighbours, my friends and family.
Robinson and McGuinness FAIL on leading.
The DUP-Sinn Fein axis FAILS on delivering.
And they are failing our future generations.
Our children deserve better.
They need to be protected and allowed to prosper.
Instead we are seeing the failed violence of the past turning into a failed politics for the future.
Threatening the stability of the Assembly threatens peoples TRUST in politics working. That approach will not deliver a united future regardless of the shape of the institutions.
Our future is together. Because a separate future is not a just and equal future.
When I listen to people on the street, or in shops, they may have a brief chat or a yarn about the latest standoff between Sinn fein and the DUP, but you can see when the issue they are talking about really matters to them.
When we talk about the bread and butter issues they are our roads, your houses, your son or daughters planning applications, your kids education issues, your parents problems with health treatment, your families social security benefits. It is the need for each and every one of us to know that from dawn to dusk our families and friends are safe.
That is what community politics is about. Building Trust for people. Reaching out to people. In the phone calls, the emails, the letters, the meetings, the house calls, that my offices and I deal with every day. For me Social Democracy is not a book based ideology, it is a way of life.
And now we, as the SDLP in 2010, must show ourselves to be the leaders th