McGlone: “I don’t care if Robinson and McGuinness are friends…”

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 Trea’s 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 you’d think it was in place for two and a half months.

The Executive’s 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 couldn’t 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 people’s 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

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  • Chris Donnelly

    Some nice words and sentiments, but Patsy glosses over the main obstacles and challenges facing his party.

    For starters, let’s look at his claim that Robinson-McGuinness ‘fails’ this society. Patsy must live and move in very small circles if he believes this is the dominant narrative within nationalist circles.

    There is broad acceptance that devolution is not delivering, but within nationalism- as the Tele polling accurately reflected- there is a fairly wide consensus holding the DUP to account for failing to enter the spirit of consensual government.

    Sinn Fein- through McGuinness- has provided the type of leadership which nobody below a greying age associates with the SDLP. And, to be honest, I really don’t believe the party has made the right choice in terms of picking a leader who looks and acts ‘leaderly.’

    The SDLP’s push for a ‘new alliance’ fell flat with the UCUNF shift to outmaneouvre the DUP; the prospect dangled before our eyes of a unified unionist front will hardly encourage the view within nationalist circles that an SDLP/Unionist axis would provide a better return at this time.

    For the SDLP to revive their flagging fortunes, it’ll take acceptance of the need for decisive action and leadership. The party needs to convince nationalist voters that it is serious about the Irish nationalist project and not afraid to take pro-active initiatives to move that agenda forward.

    There are a number of fronts which the party could open on Sinn Fein, and Ritchie’s strong rhetoric over the ‘nationalist mandate’ being betrayed by Sinn Fein over the rather shoddy deal that should deliver P and J Minister for Alliance was a step in the right direction.

    But the SDLP’s achilles heel will remain the party’s utter lack of interest in the affairs of the rest of the country they claim to be best positioned to unite. Sinn Fein’s southern strategy may have hit the rocks in recent times, but the party still polls comfortably between 7 and 10 percent, indicating that they will remain poised to potentially be coalition partners at some time in the future.

    The SDLP must decisively deal with the emptiness of their all-Ireland rhetoric. Bold steps, perhaps emulating the UCUNF initiative within Britain, are required, not the rather pathetic appeal for a revived All-Ireland Forum some 25 years after its first sitting.

  • Damian O’Loan

    “I really don’t believe the party has made the right choice in terms of picking a leader who looks and acts ‘leaderly.’”

    Interesting, what does a leader look like, exactly? A man?

  • Half Man Half Mustard

    Chris

    Regarding the All-Ireland aspect…

    Given that the conference partly marked the end of Mark Durkan’s tenure, it was no surprise to see Brian Cowen paying warm tribute to him, and the SDLP’s role in brokering the SAA. While He did relate a childhood memory of helping his Dad do a collection outside mass for the nascent SDLP up North, there were no hints of link-ups or tighter collaboration now between FF and SDLP.

    Meanwhile, Durkan seemed keen to balance these anecdotes with a reminder during his evening speech that Enda Kenny had helped out with SDLP election canvassing in Derry a while back.

    Eamon Gilmore for the Irish Labour Party, on the other hand, was effusive about the history shared by his party and the SDLP. He spoke about how he was looking forward to ‘working closely’ with his Northern colleagues over the next two years as they prepared to celebrate the centenary of the Irish Labour Movement in 2012.

    Would a more formal link between the SDLP and ILP be outlandish? Wouldn’t these Socialist International co-members be a more balanced fit in terms of political weight, as well as ideology than SDLP/FF? Has this been proposed before and I missed it?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Patsy McGlone was impressive talking to Jim Fitzpatrick. I suspect for many it was the first time he had actually been heard except by anoraks like ourselves.
    He certainly came accross as more authentic than many politicians. An untrained but genuine “voice”, he has always been happier in the background and I get the feeling that he will actually do well …in part because little is expected and in part because he is a shrewd operator.
    It wont do the SDLP any harm in Mid Ulster and in neighbouring West Tyrone (a disaster area for SDLP).
    I wish him well

  • Chris Donnelly

    Damian O’Loan

    A good ‘leader’ can be either male or female, and you’ll find people of all ideological backgrounds are capable of rallying round such figures.

    Ritchie’s public performances to date do not appear to me to be conducive with that of a person capable of leading a floundering party to a point where they secure the majority position within the northern nationalist community.

    Of course I could be wrong, but I can’t see nationalists swopping the leadership team of McGuinness and Adams for Margaret Ritchie.

  • Damian O’Loan

    I’ll let others judge Ritchie and Adams on their leadership, but you can’t delete your statement now. There was simply no need to say ‘looks’ like a leader and it was a very revealing comment.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I think Mr O’Loan is over-reacting a little.
    I make no apology for saying that nationalism/republicanism needs a strong SDLP.

    I make no apology for saying that Margaret Ritchie looks more like a librarian in Downpatrick library than a politician.
    Nothing whatsoever to do with being a woman ….Brid Rogers never looked like she was a librarian in Lurgan library……

    I wish them both well.
    But frankly Attwood, Magennis and McGlone and dare I say Declan O’Loan (a relation?) are better bets than Ritchie.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Why does it matter what a politician looks like? Point me to your last comment on the appearance of a male politician.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    It DOES matter. And it shouldnt.
    Robin Cook? Iain McCartney?
    How many people (male or female) in Stormont or Westminster or the White House are morbidly obese?.
    As the average height of a male in Belfast is about 5ft 9inches tall……..why is it that so few of our male politicians are under say 5ft 5inches.
    Sean Neeson is the only one I can think of at this moment in time. Was he not deliberately undermined by DUP types being childish about his height in Stormont?
    “Does Snow White and the other six know youre out”?
    The shortest US President was I believe James Madison at 5ft 4inches.
    Do you honestly think that the american electorate would elect a 30 stone woman or a man of 4feet 10 inches.
    Lets be frank Obama crossed the taboo of being black…..Clinton and Palin have moved women forward……being ugly or homely or mousey or having a highly visible birthmark on your face is regarded as NOT inspirational. I dont like it any more than you do.
    And its something that Margaret Ritchie WILL have to deal with (looking like a librarian I mean)

  • joeCanuck

    The SDLP must decisively deal with the emptiness of their all-Ireland rhetoric.

    Chris,

    From my point of view, far away, SF are full of empty rhetoric too. What is their master plan to convince unionists to change their minds. Simply waiting for a demographic 50% + 1 (assuming all Catholics would vote for unification, which I doubt) is wishing for an ugly civil war.

  • David Crookes

    First job for Margaret Ritchie: enthusing all of her party’s supporters to come out and vote. Now that the war is over, polling stations are doing less business. The so-called ‘peace dividend’ has created a deficit in the accounts of more than one party. When moderately committed people lose interest in voting, the protest-vote psycho-enthusiasts do well.

    Whoever their leader has been, the SDLP troops have always been diligent and intrepid. Be prepared to see the SDLP working like beavers round the doors in coming weeks. There is one new term in the equation. In a perfectly PC world the fact of Margaret Ritchie’s womanhood would mean nothing to lady voters, but the real world is warm-blooded, and fifty per cent female.

  • Wabbits

    A good speech. The SDLP should be putting this man forward more. He’s a good media performer and comes across as trustworthy and sincere. Which, no doubt, he is.

  • Mick Fealty

    My apologies, that’s not all of the speech. Expression Engine appears to have cut it off prematurely.

    Chris,

    I’m writing up my own thoughts on the conference and the state of the party for later today, but one thing I would say is that the thing they need to take account of is the failing effort of SF in the south.

    Having a structural presence in two jurisdictions is as much a weakness as a strength. Political imperatives in the south too easily contradict those being undertaken in the north.

    At this stage if you compare how well the Workers Party with SF’s high water mark (so far) in the south you also have to bear in mind that they were a complete failure in the north.

    The SDLP might be well advised, at this stage at least, not to dilute what strength it has left in Northern Ireland, but seeking an incumberence.

    I would say it is more important for them to invest in healthy relationships with other mainstream parties in the Republican and culture a more healthy interest in the politics and economics of the south.

    Northern Irish nationalist politicians of both stripes are, frankly, highly embarrassing most of the time they open their mouths on Irish politics beyond the ‘wee six’.

    Developing a more functional relationship with: 1, the Republic; and 2, their would be fellow citizens, would be a useful start, since both have been severely damaged by thirty years of low level war.

    Whatever the plan, they need to be careful about over promising and under delivering.

  • Ulidian

    Mick

    Are you claiming that the GAA has a “proven appeal to moderate unionists”, or quoting McGlone as suggesting that?

  • Lionel Hutz

    GAA does have an appeal. I know many unionists who follow GAA. This has been helped by the GAAs recent moves of allowing football and Rugby to be played in Croke Park and although they can’t capture the atmosphere of gaelic football or hurling matches, unionist get the excitement that GAA followers have on the road to Croker

  • LabourNIman

    another lecture from a half assed tribal party.. let us lead you northern ireland! But don’t dare realise we only serve the nationalists that vote for us.