Margaret’s watch not chiming with backbenchers?

Prominent SDLP Assembly member and fellow constituency representative, PJ Bradley, has spoken about his shock following his party leader’s dismissive remarks regarding the potential link up between the SDLP and Fianna Fail in today’s Irish News. Bradley, along with many other SDLP members, has long been supportive of the merger proposal, and he clearly was not expecting what he described as the “bolt out of the blue” remarks delivered by Margaret Ritchie at the Labour Party conference last week. Ritchie went on to use her speech to criticise the Fianna Fail-led government’s reaction to the banking crisis, something that will surely make it interesting if and when the SDLP ask prominent Fianna Fail politicians to venture northwards to canvass on their behalf in the coming days and weeks.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Margarets declaration of not merging with FF is correct but it would have been better to let it be known quietly that it was a non runner.

    I mean merging with FF would be nearly as bad as merging with the paedophile wing of the catholic church.

    The Sdlp should come to some arrangement with the Irish labour party in the short term and if they are to merge with any southern party it should be the Irish Labour party.

    Both parties should see that as their longer term future and make the necessary ajustments to achieve this goal.

  • Ulick

    After the slaughter of Margaret’s golden boy on the Politics Show yesterday, I doubt she is going to be around for very long.

  • Caoimhín

    It seems that Margaret is taking her conservative rural base for granted. A growing number of young people in South Down from traditional SDLP families have been and will be voting Sinn Féin until Fianna Fáil get their act together and finally take the plunge.

    While the economic difficulties in the south have done nothing to speed that process along, it remains the preferred option of a growing number of people in previously SDLP heartlands.

  • Henry94


    The problem is not with the decision not to merge with FF but the manner of her dismissal of it. To announce it at the Labour Party conference and to do it in the terms she did was a serious political mistake.

  • J Kelly

    The stance she is taking is probably the right one but to kick Fianna Fail at the Labour Party conference wasn’t the best use of that speech. It probably went down well in Galway but with wonders of modern technology it will have been heard alot further away. In Derry Mark Durkan has on his election brochure a photo of him and Cowen. The SDLP especially in Derry like the FF/SDLP link.

    Its no coincidence that bright spark Connall Mc Devitt, was also in Galway and is former Labour Party. Margaret is led by the last person she speaks to.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    ” The problem is not with the decision not to merge with FF but the manner of her dismissal of it. To announce it at the Labour Party conference and to do it in the terms she did was a serious political mistake. ”

    Posted by Henry94

    Have to agree with ya there. The announcement was crude and unnecessarily antagonistic to those that may not be in agreement with her.

    Perhaps she is trying to bounce the Sdlp into an arrangement with the Irish labour party.

    I suppose you get a little leeway as a newly elected leader but you have to be selective about the bouncing you can achieve.

    She better be a bit subtle for a while now.

  • RobertEmmett

    hurlers on the ditch always know when the strategic mistakes have been made. saying that the party should have nothing to with FF is about the mildest thing you could about FF. good to see the SDLP getting back some of the back bone that it had lost.

  • seosamh

    A sheep in sheep’s clothing.

  • Chris Donnelly

    After the slaughter of Margaret’s golden boy on the Politics Show yesterday, I doubt she is going to be around for very long.

    I was very surprised by how poorly McKinney performed. Doesn’t seem to have had much of a bried beyond repeating the phrase ‘shared future’ several times and suggesting the SDLP’s plans for a United Ireland involved holding hands with a lot of unionists….

  • Chris Donnelly

    brief not ‘bried’ obviously…

  • Lionel Hutz

    I’m not sure how to react to this one. It is undoubtedly the case that the link to FF was one of convenience. In truth I do not think the SDLP should have been too cosy with FF and a proper link up just isn’t natural – the SDLPs old-labour style principles just don’t marry well with FF. Those in the SDLP who like FF, like the idea of being potentially part of the most successful political party in Europe since WW2 but are so detached that they don’t see the blatant contradictions in policy.

    I don’t believe there is any natural policy link-up with any party in the south, but Margaret Ritchie’s leadership is certainly taking the party back to that old labour style and the Labour are a good link-up in that respect.

    There are certain aspects of this that I just don’t like. Ritchie cannot protect public services long-term, it’s just mnot viable. Just as much as we need water charges. In the south, NAMA, despite it’s pain, is going to save the Irish economy or atleast Ireland’s reputation. That sort of head-in-the-sand politics undermines the credibility of their policies. The SDLP need to confront some hard truths to sieze the centre ground in N.I. Labour will never do this in the south, SDLP seem to be rowing back in the North


    McKinney got creamed by old hawk eyes yesterday! Thought it was hilarious! He kept putting his hand up to ask a question!
    Should have stuck to interviewing people Ferghal LOL

  • Neil

    Have to agree with the cosensus on McKinney. No substantive answers, just naive optimism. With regards Ritchie I would suggest that her impulse control hasn’t been great for a good while now. In the controversial decisions she has taken (which I should add were largely lauded at the time on this site), there has been generally some picking apart of her decisions from a legal perspective afterwards. She overstepped the mark on those occasions or so it seemed on reflection.

    At the end of the day being outspoken and controversial might work for her, perhaps that’s what people really want from an MP. But that may turn out not to be the case, certainly there’s little reason to unnecessarily antagonise other non-rival political figures/parties.

  • Stewart

    McKinney was really shocking yesterday and Seemed to be obsessed with holding hands with people.

    The constant looking round and fidgeting was quite unnerving at times.

  • Neil

    Interesting looking at the figures for F&ST; in 2005 election shows that if everyone on the Nationalist side of the fence votes the same way again, and every single Unionist vote (from ’06) went to the Unionist Tory candidate then Unionism would top the poll with 44.6% to Sinn Fein’s 38.2% and McKinney would trail home in last place with 14.8%.

    So in order for SF to win the election outright, they would need McKinney to lose about 6.5% of the vote to Sinn Fein. Highly unlikely I suppose, but the following questions occur to me:

    1 – We usually see where one party has a ‘gauranteed’ win that the voter turnout goes down, as people assume that their candidate will win either way, however in F&ST; that may not be the case as Unionists might be enlivened at the opportunity to have representation. So if the Unionist vote went down that would shrink the margins. How likely is that I wonder?

    2 – I know for a cast iron fact that some SDLP voters will switch to SF for two reasons namely some will be disgusted at the SDLP for splitting the Nationalist vote in the face of a Unionist pact and some will be hoping that by voting SF they can help SF win the election. The question there then being can SF swing a minimum of 5% of the overall vote towards them?

    The 5% figure is arbitrary as Unionist turnout will play a big role, but using that figure as a bare minimum required to be in with a chance I’m wondering is there any hope at all of beating Unionism even with their unity candidate? Especially given McKinney’s inexperience and apparant hopelessness?

  • Greenflag

    McKinney is dead in the political waters . The only question now is of the degree of his political humiliation in FST.

    Those SDLP voters who don’t turn out to vote SF will be helping to elect David Cameron as next British PM.

    Shades of Frank Maguire toppling Callaghan and ushering in 18 years of Tory rule .

    Unconscionable 🙁

  • Michaelhenry

    who slapped that tan mixture on to mikinneys face, who if anybody is mikinneys adviser, why did mikinneye wait untill this year before he joined the s.d.l.p, does anybody care.

  • John O’Connell

    Have to agree with the cosensus on McKinney. No substantive answers, just naive optimism.

    A bit like Clegg in Britain and I wonder how much of his charm will rub off on the electorate. On first sight I thought that McKinney was beaten by Kelly but looking at the debate last night on BBC, I thought that McKinney actually won the thing clearly over an old hack with no answers only cynicism. Idealism has a power. Clegg showed that.

  • Neil

    I thought that McKinney actually won the thing clearly over an old hack with no answers only cynicism

    Clearly though, you would be predisposed towards thinking that, due to your affiliation with the SDLP, and stated hatred of SF. And unfortunately cynicism and realism are closely related. Optimism and stupidity are closely related in an NI context.

    The cynicism was well placed. McKinney seemed to be suggesting that if the people of F&ST; lost control of their faculties and voted for him en masse, that sectarianism would be gone overnight. That without any kind of plan to actually achieve this.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think Fearghal grew into the debate as it went along, however there was an element of bringing a puppy into a dog fight. Very few politicians can stand up in a half hour one-on-one debate. Gerry Kelly spends half his time on the BBC, between Nolan, McKee and Thompson- and knows how to make something insubstantial sound very big (that we are negotiating at the top nonsense in 10 Downing Street being the best example).

    As for McKinney, has the skills to be able to take on that debate but he lacked the knowledge of voting records, achievements etc with which to bat in quite substantial debate. The Questions were very specific and he didn’t know the answers. Gerry Kelly didn’t either but he hid behind the we are in the executive nonsense and is just so comfortable he gets away with it.

    I would love to know who decides who represents a party at these debates (are they asked personally or are the party asked?) but McKinney would have done very well in one of those 5 minute Hearts and Minds segments. A longer debate was one step too far. It is noticable how CUs haven’t taken a chance on Nesbitt yet.

    I wonder how they will do in the election. He got a key message across though, that they’ll be there. He’ll survive!

    not bad for a first attempt in my view

  • Seandoc

    As an SDLP voter from South Down I wholeheartedly endorse Margaret Ritchie’s comments on a merger with Fianna Fail.

    The manner in which FF govern strikes a chord with how the DUP operate in the north with their endemic corruption and self-interest. They are devoid of any ideology or political values to inform the manner in which they govern.

    They have set up in South Down and in other places in any event and if they have any confidence that they would win support here then they should put forward candidates rather than ride on the back of the hard work the SDLP has done to build up its constituency in the last 30 years.

    As far as Feargal’s performance was concerned have to agree with the tenor of the comments made to date. It was hard to watch at times, one of the worst performances I have ever seen.

    He probably has the skill to perform well in such scenarios but has not backed that up with hard work before hand and there is no real excuse for that. He is kidding himself if he believes the fact that he is a ‘celebrity’ will be sufficient to see him progress in the world of politics.

    He will come across more able opponents than Gerry Kelly (who has a unigue way of communicating through the medium of English) and will have to do his homework in future otherwise it will be back to the glamorous world of regional television for him.

  • Peter

    @Seandoc: As an SDLP voter from South Down you should be more concerned about your own party’s permanently declining vote, than what FF does or does not do. It’s a complete disgrace that the SDLP could not retain a third seat in South Down, either of its two seats in West Tyrone and has lost Mallon’s seat. The party is in a permanent downward spiral and hasn’t the wit to see it. The sooner FF actually move into the North and take the plunge, challenging SF, the better. It’s just not good enough that the Nationalist/Republican people of the North are abandoned to an SDLP party on life-support.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Peter, the downward spiral may have stopped now and there is little evidence that it is permanent. The SDLP should atleast hold on to two of their seats and possibly keep South Belfast.

    Sinn Fein meanwhile could lose a seat. Interesting

  • John O’Connell


    I don’t hate any party. Give me your evidence for such a position. I’m only saying these things because they are true. On the other hand you seem to be a bitter Sinn Fein supporter.

  • nick

    What a crass and thoughtless way to announce her views on this issue. Clearly Ritchie was crowd-pleasing at another political party’s conference at the expense of any respect for those in her own Party with a different view.

    A big fish in a small Downpatrick pond but hilariously out of her depth on the bigger stage.-

    Also a crazy decision to put Sheephead McKinney up against Kelly-outcome? Lamb duly slaughtered.

  • John O’Connell

    Lamb duly slaughtered.

    There’s always a resurrection, Nick. I thought McKinney did well on reflection. Better than expected. I suppose it depends on yor expectations, but Kelly was like the old geezer in the film starring Kirk Douglas. He was tough as he was just out of prison but he was too old for any one to take seriously. Kelly looks increasingly like an old man who’s had surgery but still lacks the charm to win over the audience. McGuinness and Adams are in the same camp.

  • west belfast

    As a republican voter I believe SDLP will continue to become even more irrelevant in the coming years. At the minute I have no other option other than to vote SF – which suits me fine at the minute.

    I would like FF to finally come North on their own merit and not as some reworking of the SDLP.

    Ritchie may win South Down but that will be the only high point of her leadership – I think she is truly awful – shockingly bad. I am a SF voter who is open to persuasion to cast my vote elsewhere but there is no way I would vote SDLP – FF however would be tempting.

    As for poor Fearghal – as they say in WB – I hit a massive redner for him – embarrassingly bad. I really hope the nationalist people of FST see through his shallow plans and vote Gildernew is their droves – however I think she will just miss out.

    I do not know anyone under 30, infact that is now under 40, voting SDLP.

    Someone should tell Ritchie that nationalists dont care that SF dont turn up and swear an oath to the Queen – how the hell does sitting on the green benches build a ‘shared Ireland’ – nonsense. We all know that Durkan and McDonnell have been lured by the pomp and ceremony of London politics.

  • John O’Connell

    As a republican voter I believe SDLP will continue to become even more irrelevant in the coming years.

    I think we’re heading inevitably towards a Bosnia situation. Young people simply can’t remember the bad faith arguments of the Troubles that gave rise to the SDLP. They’re taking peace for granted, whereas it was hard won, and they’re accepting the new bad faith vacuous (sectarian) arguments of Sinn Fein much too readily. But the sensible ones are still voting SDLP, thank God.

    What is a Sinn Fein voter, but someone who hates something or other in the British, the unionists, the southern parties or the SDLP. Is it a positive vote for anything? Bosnia is more likely than a united Ireland of their making.

  • StarHound

    I have to say that I raised an eyebrow at the way Margaret Ritchie delivered her pronouncement on merger with Fianna Fáil – ‘Not on my watch’ was as crassly unnecessary as it was misguided. Her leadership seems to becoming not just a car-crash but increasingly surreal – which part of the SDLP is she actually leading? Has she actually told anyone else in the SDLP what her vision is? It certainly doesn’t look like it.

    I talked to people in South Belfast today who voted SDLP last time who were discussing not voting this time or who were Sinn Féin voters who voted for McDonnell last time and were not going to do it this time because of this outburst, puzzlement over the ‘Shared Future’ nonsense as well as her rejection of talks with Sinn Féin over Fermanagh & South Tyrone and South Belfast itself.

    And yes, Fearghal Mc Kinney was terrible, Gerry Kelly demolished him with ease. Why did Margaret Ritchie not hold off with this ‘master stroke’ till the Assembly election?

  • John O’Connell

    And yes, Fearghal Mc Kinney was terrible, Gerry Kelly demolished him with ease.

    It’s amazing that the comments are so similar in this blog, and completely at odds with the reality that Fearghal McKinney, a new inexperienced face, like Nick Clegg, got the better of Gerry Kelly, an old stager and nearly pensioner of the republican movement.

    Do these people have any understanding of the consequences of the failure of the SDLP path? There simply is no Sinn Fein path, as Sinn Fein know only too well as they follow in the footsteps of the SDLP. What happens when good faith is dismissed as weakness is that we go back to the ways of man made failure and away from idealism.

  • Seandoc

    John I share your criticism of Sinn Fein but let’s not engage in republican speak in calling black as white.

    Fearghal was a stutering mess, he couldn’t express a coherent argument on what the SDLP members has achieved at Westminister, couldn’t counter Kelly’s point on low attendance, and when asked to express the difference between the parties he kept muttering something about holding hands.

    He was ill-prepared and if he wants a career in the assembly he will have to work to improve on that.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “Fearghal McKinney, a new inexperienced face, like Nick Clegg, got the better of Gerry Kelly”

    On what topic did he get the better of Gerry Kelly?