Sinn Fein’s open goal presents the SDLP with a golden shot

Does the SDLP have a future? The question is often asked but rarely examined properly. Now the historian Cillian McGrattan has had a modest go at it in Fortnight. On bread and butter policies there’s little or no difference with Sinn Fein: spend, spend, spend. It might be very different if they were obliged to tax as well as spend.

Looking back on the Troubles, McGrattan is right to stress radically different legacies. It’s true that the SDLP found it easier to criticise “Crown forces” than the IRA. They kept strictly private the odd muttering that if only unionists had the sense to do a deal with them they would make the Cosgrave government look like a tea party. Whether that’s to be taken literally or not, the fact was that although the IRA were bastards, they were our bastards and they would still be around after the army had left – eventually. So tactical prudence got the better part of political valour. In addition, there was the considerable point to holding the State to its own professed standards while the IRA despised any such nonsense applying to them.

The starkest difference is that the IRA held up reform for generations while the SDLP would have done much to bring it about. But these days, when the gap between ” constitutional ” politics and the physical force kind has all but disappeared the distinction has lost much of its force. Nevertheless, which tradition would you rather defend at St Peter’s gates? Now Gerard, tell me again, exactly what freedom was it you won?

I suppose what still frightens the SDLP is the question, which one is the greener. Yet today it seems less profitable than ever. They can’t play it down too much for fear of gifting SF with an opportunist if empty victory.

The SDLP have probably noticed but it’s worth pointing out that almost everywhere except NI, political parties have abandoned the ancient nostrums of the left. Only SF sticks half heartedly to the last century’s agitprop to fill in the gaps between Wolf Tone commemorations. Forced to cover the divergent economies of the two states of Ireland, they lack the intellectual muscle to deal with one.

Waiting for SF fully to divest its revolutionary canon  presents the SDLP with an open goal.  A growing Middle NI exists unchecked by recession. It’s not yet a swing vote and may never become so  but it is undoubtedly growing, politically unrevolutionary,  and there to be captured by  fresh energy and ideas.  The party might also take note that the Catholic middle class are as keen on grammar schools as the Prods. The embourgeoisement of nationalist politics is happening slowly.

With the “one last heave” school of unity in the doldrums, it would seem more profitable to carve out a distinction between the SDLP’s shared future ambitions and Sinn Fein’s separate but equal (or “benign apartheid” call it what you will) – a distinction reinforced by FMFDM’s Cohesion Strategy paper.

But you may ask, where is the political gain to be won in that, when the communities are so ghettoised? Important I’d say, as a sign of ambition for good government, marginally politically worth it in places like south Belfast, and better at any rate than living only on dreams.

After a shaky start Margaret Ritchie is making headway. The SDLP now needs to spell out just how that future is to be shared in the practical workings of a genuine coalition. Genuine partnership involving give and take  is essential.  Specific policies aside, the way the UK coalition put together a programme for government offers a model.   Engagement with consenting unionists and the “others” could be transforming.  It may be along haul but the SDLP have nothing to lose.

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “Waiting for SF fully to divest its revolutionary canon presents the SDLP with an open goal. ”

    Marty the Marxist? I dont think so, the fact is that in Ulster SF do practical politics and the smack of firm(ish) government resonated in the Telly survey showing Marty as popular even amongst Unionists.

    If SF divested themselves of the ‘revolutionary canon’ which they oft repeat in the other Irish provinces then they might win a few more seats there.

  • It is a bit unfair to say that the SDLP felt “the IRA were bastards, they were our bastards”

    That is actually pretty close to libellous. The SDLP always denounced the IRA: many of their members were intimidated for it. Gerry Fitt was threatened ans were many others. That rewriting of history is completely unfair.

    There were of course disgraceful episodes in the SDLP’s legacy. Not standing against a terrorist who was in the process of starving himself to death was one. Far worse was not standing in the election after Sands’ death: though I think at least some SDLP members demured from that disgraceful decision.

    “The starkest difference is that the IRA held up reform for generations while the SDLP would have done much to bring it about.”

    This is true to an extent. However, Hume dallied with Sinn Fein at times when he might have tried to move the process forwards. Hume needed SF to advance his nonsense about unionists being a tradition within a new RoI rather than actually a British majority. In that he did seem to use the IRA’s campaign or rather its ending as a stick to extract concessions.

    On many occasions he stuck with Adams and “the process” after horrendous IRA murders. Had he been willing to be a less tribal figure he might have brought politics here on much more and helped his own party: sadly he was not that sort of a man.

    Hume may rightly be called a hypocrite and it may (only may) be fair to say that he regarded the IRA as >i>”our bastards” However, that is utterly unfair about many decent SDLP members who stood up to awful intimidation and even violence. be a little careful Brian in your generalities.

  • DeValery had a canary


    It’s an interesting article but the SDLP exist to be more than the “Not Sinn Fein Party” – hence their view on selection (being “in favour of grammar schools” also means being in favour of shit schools for everyone else, lest we forget).

    Today it is incredibly difficult to tell the truth/have a mature discussion in the North – hence SF were able to get away with claiming John Hume was a unionist because he said “we live in an increasingly post-nationalist world”.

    While the politics remains one of sectarian head count then the SDLP’s duty will be to survive as a principled party of social democracy. If and when real politics comes – for instance, as you say, they have to start making decisions about tax – then things will start to look better.

  • White Horse

    I agree, Sammy. SF need to catch themselves on in the South.

    The SDLP are on a sure footing at the minute with a shared society theme. This is the only way to greater unity on the island. Yet one worries that the less able SF might persist in its Troubles routine of wrecking the SDLP approach only to adopt it themselves when its too late to be of any assistance to the country.

  • pippakin

    If I were in the north I would be SDLP, having said that, SF are evolving and they may yet gain the stature needed to progress.

  • “the SDLP’s shared future ambitions”

    Brian, you’ll find this on the SDLP website: “The SDLP will strive for A SHARED FUTURE

    The SDLP wants to build an Ireland where reconciliation, equality and inclusion are chapter headings in the new story we will write together.”

    The SDLP expects enough Unionists to forgo their constitutional aspiration to make a UI possible; it is still stuck in the Hume rut.

  • pippakin


    “The SDLP expects enough Unionists to forgo their constitutional aspiration to make a UI possible; it is still stuck in the Hume rut.”

    Stuck they may be but is that such a bad place to be, and btw where are you unionists need to move forward too.

  • Nevin,
    Of course that is true. However, the SDLP is stuck in a bit of a double bind. If it did try to reach out and do some unionist engagement it would be very likely to suffer from SF calling them Uncle Toms which is essentially what happened when they tried post nationalism.

    Yet unless they break the link to Hume-ism they will be viewed with at best grave suspicion by unionists.

  • pippakin, Unionists and Nationalists treat each other’s aspiration with contempt and, often, hostility. They wish to move forward but in opposite directions. When the going gets tough the extremists come to the fore.

    To pick up on this popular choice from the Liverpool survey, “I wanted to pick somebody who would work hard for local people” only the DUP and SF have the commitment and the resources to make this possible.

  • pippakin


    Then Unionists and Nationalists need to move forward. In reality there is not much difference between British and Irish rule, sure its all Brussels now.

    In addition I firmly believe Unionists would feel more ‘at home’ in a UI than they ever would in England, which would be the next logical destination.

  • Seamus Eolach

    I think that Nationalism will regroup and reform in the North, I am sure that that will be at Sinn Féin’s expense to some extent but really I cant see a way out for the SDLP.

    I am sure some of there personalites could be a part of something new however.

    The shared future line is a useful one for the SDLP but any sacrifice of equality to placate unionists in that agenda will be protrayed as Stoopery – a careful game needed.

  • Turgon, I think we need some form of shared sovereignty to make worthwhile mutual co-operation here possible. In the meantime, London and Dublin will continue to respond positively to the demands of their ‘chosen’ paramilitary godfathers.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Some wishful thinking going on here, unless SF make a serious mistake in the eyes of Nationalists (of which Education is currently not an example) they will continue to thrive and exaclty the same goes for the DUP.

    Both Marty and Robbo have done well and the fact that both have benifited from and stolen some of the attire of the SDLP and UUP does not really seem to concern the electorate.

    ..and if SF can extend their sensible and pragmatic politics to the South then the possiblilty of being in government in both parts of Ireland will be back on.

  • pippakin, I’m thinking of ‘shared’ British and Irish rule in NI as we’ve experienced it since 1985. I don’t think the rest of these two islands would appreciate the dominance extended to paramilitaries in the control of numerous local communities.

    I’d like to see a solution that would permit both ‘tribes’ to feel at home. I don’t see either Finchley or Finglas as their dream abodes 🙂

  • DerTer

    I’m with Turgon. Particularly objectionable is your claim that “the SDLP found it easier to criticise “Crown forces” than the IRA.” The party did indeed criticise the security forces from time to time, and I should add – as someone who has no axe whatever to grind for the SDLP – that I often agreed with such criticisms. But as an outsider, I found the SDLP’s condemnation of IRA violence to have been constant and unequivocal.
    However, the ‘where to now’ problem remains the same as it was at the party’s foundation; the SDLP should have been the purely civil rights party that so many of us expected, and not a declaredly Irish nationalist party. What’s worse is that it has become even more nationalist purely in order to compete with Sinn Féin. So I wouldn’t start from here!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Wishful thinking on your part Mr Walker…..again

  • West Sider

    Fantastic blog.

    The MSM and MSBlogs seem to focus their attention on the shades and shifts in unionism, so much so that it becomes boring after a while and when the same old terrain emerges from the fog we get tired of it and realise it doesn’t deserve the sheer scale of intellectual effort.

    The difference between the SDLP and Sinn Fein is much more interesting, and I disagree with the contributor above who claimed that the SDLP weren’t the primary force in speaking out against the British Army.

    As Brian asserts, they most certainly could and did: how could you lambast the brutal militarism of the British state and yet stay silent on the actions of the Provos. It wasn’t a viable position. No-one would take you seriously.

    The Provisional movement tried it endlessly, but they never sounded that convincing against a background of violence perpetrated by their fellow travellers (the mythical First Dail Irish state) and only every preached to the converted.

    Today, I can’t see much of a difference between the parties despite the old mantra of ‘what went before’ but the SDLP are the keenest among all our main parties not to repeat that and instead drive us toward the future.

    It’s a shame they are where they are, but they failed to modernise. They had and have incredibly decent and hardworking members with an ethos that hasn’t changed over the years.

    But their rivals did modernise and in so doing changed their ethos to appeal to a large swathe of their voters. They appeared younger, more vibrant, dynamic even – and, crucially, newsworthy. That last point was the killer in the years from 1994 onwards.

    Here’s hoping for a recovery, but I can’t see it. As revolting as it now sounds, I can see a rapprochment between the two main nationalist parties in the years ahead, once the yesterday’s men and women, in every sense of that phrase, are phased out.

    Same would go for all our parties, but then you get Tom Elliott getting elected and then Robert Saulters’ comments (yes, I know he is under personal strain at the moment) – and you think where, just where, does unionism see itself going?

    What year are they living in? What year do they want to end up in?

  • West Sider


    Correction to the above:

    “As revolting as it now sounds” should read:

    “As revolting as it now sounds to the old guard of the SDLP and many of their voters”

  • Dixie Elliott

    The amazing Hypocrisy Of Martina Anderson….

    Note the dates;

    ‘Cut the apron strings – not benefits’- Anderson

    September 27, 2010

    The Social Security Minister Alex Attwood should cut the apron strings with Britain rather than implementing Tory cuts, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has insisted….

    “But rather that relying on the goodwill of a Tory Minister in London, I am calling on the DSD Minister to work towards breaking parity with Britain and taking control of our own destiny.

    “That way the only cut he should be implementing is the one that severs the apron strings with Britain.” ENDS


    NI ministers discuss cuts with Osborne

    Tuesday, 28 September 2010 17:34

    Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have met British Chancellor George Osborne to argue the case for special treatment for Northern Ireland in relation to the UK government’s planned spending cuts….

    Paterson sparks segregation row

    Tuesday, 05 October 2010

    Mr Paterson was speaking at a fringe meeting of the Conservative party conference where Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made a first appearance.

    SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood and UUP Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey also attended the CHAMP Northern Ireland Breakfast in Birmingham.…9-f6b3428b71d7

  • Dixie Elliott

    Why is my post awaiting moderation when normally they go in straight away?

    Could someone check please?

  • So, Mr Walker, who was this “Wolf Tone”? What, in your terms is “reform”? And, for goodness’ sake, do we take for granted the way the UK coalition put together a programme for government offers a model?

    I’d like to engage here, but the debate seems to be splitting hairs about the future of capitalism-in-six-counties. That, to me, is a profitable discussion about cynical opportunism. Where’s the romance?

    To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, these were my means.

    Who that? A parson’s son, from the County Kildare, a Trinity man, a lawyer, an eloper, a nearly-failed suicide. Went by the name of Theobald Wolfe Tone.

  • Der Ter,
    Thank you. Now clearly I am a unionist and as such have many points of disagreement with the SDLP. However, Walker’s practically libellous remarks about the SDLP need to be seen in the context of Walker’s agenda.

    Walker has for a long time here been about trying to propagate the lie that we were all responsible for the Troubles. It is the standard revisionist myth that everyone was to blame so no one was so we need to move on and forget the past; support things like an amnesty etc. etc.

    It is worthy of note that Walker is of course a huge fan of Eames Bradley which was the archetype for this sort of lying nonsense.

    Hence, it is unsurprising that Walker tells lies about the SDLP and tries to say they really sort of supported the IRA in spite of the painfully obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of them did not. He does just the same about unionists.

    It is all part of Walker’s agenda but each time he and people like him come out with these lies it is vital that all people here who opposed violence and crime stand up to those lies. It is particularly important that people on the “other side” point out these lies: it prevents him and his kind from the “Of course they would say that about their own…” defence.

  • SDLP Man


    Just a few points:
    Point One
    “it’s worth pointing out that almost everywhere except NI, political parties have abandoned the ancient nostrums of the left”.

    Really? I think you’re a bit Brit/Swedish-centric there. President Lula of Brazil, a social democrat, is about to stand down after eight years in which he has transformed the Brazilian society and economy for the better. President Obama described him recently as the most popular politician in the world. In France, centre-right Sarkozy is looking dodgy and Angela Merkel doesn’t look too solid either. Irish Labour don’t look in too bad shape either. Brian, I believe you’re a fan of the late historian Tony Judt and one of the themes of his ‘Post War’ is the success of social democracy over the past few generations in Europe. Similarly, in Australia the economy has done very well with social democrats in charge.

    The right-wing, disregard of good corporate governance of light-touch free market capitalism of Bush, Blair-Brown and, more locally, our own ‘Boston rather than Bonn’ little coterie of Ahern, Harney and McCreevy, has brought their respective national economies to their knees. I was in the States recently and some people are arguing that Obama was being too ‘statesmanlike’ in not blaming the awful GW Bush for everything that went wrong in the economy (and he would have been absolutely justified) in the same way that Reagan spent his first term blaming Carter.

    I think two things will come out of this:
    -yes there’ll be less money for the redistribution so favoured by social democrats as governmental intervention retreats and governments take a generation to pay back public debt and get the money men off their backs
    – I’m prepared to bet that the freemasonry of elected politicians, even some on the right, will collectively, explicitly and implicitly, swear a mighty oath that they will never again be beholden to or deferential to or suck up to the ‘Masters of the Universe’, the ‘Wealth Creators’ in banking and financial services, who turned out to be Wealth Destroyers and smoke and mirror merchants.

    Point Two
    As someone who has been in the SDLP from the beginning and who knew all the main players, I never, ever came across any moral ambivalence about the use of violence. There were no “sneaking regarders”. They just saw the use of violence, from whatever source, as intrinsically wrong and a disaster that would take generations to heal. I can only speak for myself, but I’m fairly worldly-wise. I think you do the SDLP a great disservice.

    Of course there were failures of courage like Fermanagh South Tyrone but as the Irish proverb has it “it’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound” and a lot of people who demanded that the SDLP contest the elections would never have knocked a door in their lives. Their attitude to politics was consumerist: provide us with what we like but we won’t get our hands dirty.

    I think it was the 1979 Darlington Talks (Humphrey Atkins) when Hume offered mandatory power-sharing to West and Paisley for one term and then on a voluntary basis afterwards, because he was confident that they would build trust by working together. West/Paisley turned it down and Hume remarked that their obduracy hardened his heart and made him determined that the only way out was widening the context of the problem.

    Point Three
    I think John Hume is the greatest Irish person of his generation, maybe any generation, and I have unalloyed regard for him but I do think he made a mistake engaging with Sinn Fein when he had not secured the organisational base of his party, in which he was quite disinterested. I also believe that towards the end of his leadership he was not quite as intellectually sharp as he was in the seventies and early eighties and that he did not fully appreciate what a piece of work, with all the attributes of Josef Stalin on a miniscule scale, that Adams was.

    Point Four
    In terms of actually doing anything practical in terms of bringing about a shared society, Margaret Ritchie and Alex Attwood as Social Development Ministers, are the only people in the current Executive who have done anything practical, namely and primarily their integrated social housing policies.

    Point Five
    Yes, the SDLP are top dogs in South Belfast with a pretty competent elected team comprising an MP, two MLAs and at least six councilors, and with 40% of the vote. But, when push comes to shove, by no means all that vote is social democratic in instinct. A lot of the South Belfast middle class, highly educated and able as they are, are dependent on the public purse for their living as much as the guy on the dole up the Whiterock. How they would vote if top-end salaries were capped, or taxes rose sharply, is a moot point. I agree with you about their attitude to selective education.

    I’ve often made the point that, practising Catholics or not, a lot of them are happy to send their kids to a stratospherically “successful” primary school in terms of transfer test results like St. Bride’s on Derryvolgie Avenue and even to the equally “successful” Rathmore, but that if there was any diminution of “standards” a lot of these parents would unhesitatingly switch to Methodist College or RBAI or whatever (some already do).

    I think education is key and the SDLP could make some moves here. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has said that his Church is no longer interested in carrying the can for the State in running the bulk of schools in the Republic. I think there needs to be some creativity and imagination here and a move toward some form of integration and less duplication.

  • Brian Walker

    macolm, Fine fellow Wolf, who nearly made it to India to clean up the Mahrattas. I refer of course no to the Theobald who was ( though one could pick a bone or two with him) but to what he became, whether he would have approved or not,

  • Comrade Stalin

    However, Walker’s practically libellous remarks about the SDLP need to be seen in the context of Walker’s agenda.

    I didn’t think it was possible to libel a political party.

    It is the standard revisionist myth that everyone was to blame so no one was so we need to move on and forget the past; support things like an amnesty etc. etc.

    It’s not a myth at all. Quite a lot of people, including some people in the TUV, support an amnesty for paramilitaries (a bizarre fact given the TUV’s public opposition to the same). They see them as victims rather than perpetrators.

    The idea that the only people who caused the trouble were those who possessed and used guns and/or explosives is extremely simplistic, and very far from the full truth.

  • Brian Walker

    Der Ter the point is not that the SDLP failed to condemn IRA violence – everybody did that- but that they were unable to mobilise opinion against it although they were part of the same community and for a long time its main political voice. This was a key limitation of democratic politics.

    This was an undoubted failure though an understandable one that eventually prompted John Hume to embark on the Hume/ Adams talks for which in my book he deserves great credit.

    Moralising about the Provos he realised, was not enough. .

  • CS,
    I agree that not only those who possessed and used guns and explosives were involved. However, lots of people had no involvement and indeed utterly opposed all the terrorists. To try to say we were all involved is the simplistic part: simplistic and utterly dishonest but part and parcel of the Eames Bradley typed nonsense for which Walker has been a cheerleader.

    The reason I said practically libellous re Walker’s remarks was precisely because one cannot libel a political party. Of course Walker will not name names of these SDLP members due to his dishonesty and cowardice.

  • Walker,
    You are back tracking totally and utterly dishonestly: look at what you said about the SDLP in your blog “although the IRA were bastards, they were our bastards.”

    Now you are saying “that they were unable to mobilise opinion”

    That is totally different. Maybe accept that you were telling lies first time out?

  • Hedley Lamarr

    “Hume dallied with Sinn Fein at times when he might have tried to move the process forwards.” -Turgon.

    The Hume/Adams dalliance was the embryonic talks process that lead to the current imperfect peace. This imperfect peace is a lot better than the Troubles and John Hume was one of the main architects.

    Reform? The Brooke/Mayhew talks involving the DUP, UUP and SDLP took years to even agree procedural points never mind substantive issues.

    John Hume never moved away from his firm stance of non-violence. I don’t understand how he is a hypocrite. I know he annoyed people but in NI politics who doesn’t?

  • Brian Walker

    SDLP Man, I’m absolutely sure there were no sneaking regarders among the SDLP that I knew – just people who accepted the limitations of the terrible situation they were in.( and see above). I think I made that clear enough despite some deliberate misinterpetations above.

    In Europe at least, it’s not a great time for the left is it? And if I were Obama I’d praise Lula and his successor too. A different world I think.

    Of course social democracy will come back, maybe sooner than some think. It will be interesting to see if the SDLP can contribute to SD thinking where it ought to belong – genuinely across the community.

    SF’s “left” is essentially the very dated populism of the dispossessed, ok as the politics of protest but hardly enough for government.

    On the rest of your comments, I mostly agree. .

  • Macbhrad

    Ah Turgon Virctory will be the laughter of our children. How will you be remembered.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SDLP Man,

    “I think John Hume is the greatest Irish person of his generation”

    I would go along with that.

    But I wouldnt go along with the contention “As someone who has been in the SDLP from the beginning and who knew all the main players, I never, ever came across any moral ambivalence about the use of violence. ”

    The SDLP kept, like many other Nationalists, their views regarding resistance under wraps (“moral ambivalence”) until events forced it to the surface like during the Hunger Strikes (“there were failures of courage like Fermanagh South Tyrone”) or in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday when many would have interpeted the great man’s words regarding a United Ireland as a reinforcement of the Nationalist belief that resistance to Britsh mis-rule was justified.

    The ambivalence of the Nationalist electorate to violence has been illlustrated by the fact that SF have become the largest party and I think it is fair to say that many in the SDLP, like most other Nationalists, probably shared that ambivalence – though as we can see above – they are hardly likley to admit it.

  • Brian Walker

    Turgon, You seem desperate for a reply but I will say it one more time only – I do not reply to abuse.

  • Further back tracking. In the main blog we had:
    ““although the IRA were bastards, they were our bastards.”

    Now we have:
    “I’m absolutely sure there were no sneaking regarders among the SDLP that I knew”

    Now I suppose one could find a way to reconcile those two statements: it would take a pretty breathtaking level of dishonesty but I suppose it may be necessary to ensure that this blog does not have to be pulled like this one had to be: “a href=””>To be passively non- sectarian is not enough. Reply to Sir Reg Empey

  • I do not want a reply: I want to demonstrate your lying about the SDLP. I may be no fan of them but I think that rewriting history to pretend that they were ambivalent on terrorism is unacceptable.

    I ask for no reply from you Walker: I merely highlight your lying.

  • Mike Scott

    this post lost me at “After a shaky start Margaret Ritchie is making headway”

    No she is not. If you think she is you know little of politics.

  • Pete Baker

    It was held up on account of the number of links.

    Blame the spam filter.

  • Probably for very little. Then again, I have never burned down any furniture shops in order to unite Ireland.

  • SDLP Man

    Sammy, get it right, the words Hume uttered on Monday 31 January 1972, standing on Derry’s Walls), were:

    “The people there (pointing down at the Bogside) are saying it’s a united Ireland or nothing”,

    I hope you’re not trying to rewrite history by implying that Hume and the SDLP wanted a united ireland and all or any cost.

    Of course there was and is moral ambivalence among many former SDLP voters who couldn’t stomach the blood on the streets, but certainly not among any SDLP members and activists whom I knew.

    I came across many voters on the doorstep post-1994, particularly in West Belfast, who would say something like “I used to vote for yiz when the Provos were killing people but now that they’ve stopped…” and they would practically expect to be congratulated on their sagaciousness or at least a sympathetic nod.

    For me they were just hypocrites or at least morally deeply conflicted. I had more respect for those people who supported Sinn Fein irrespective of what the Provos did.

  • Pete Baker

    “It is all part of Walker’s agenda…”


    Play the ball.

    Just as you’d expect anyone to do with one of your posts.

  • Turgon

    I am playing the ball. Walker claimed that the SDLP regarded the IRA as “our bastards” In the context of his blog that was suggesting that they (the SDLP) had a degree of moral ambivalence to the IRA. I man challenging what I regard as a lie. I am also setting that lie in the context of similar lies Walker has told about the UUP which have been recorded (though at least one of the blogs has mysteriously vanished).

    If we are only allowed to comment on Walker’s comments on one blog alone; I await you doing the same next time someone makes any comment about me on one of my blogs which is not solely related to that blog. Indeed you have not done so including on a number of occasions when Walker himself has told lies about me on my own blogs.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SDLP Man,

    “I came across many voters on the doorstep post-1994, particularly in West Belfast, who would say something like “I used to vote for yiz when the Provos were killing people but now that they’ve stopped…”

    If there is one reply that has to be discounted when uttered by party politicans it is the dreadful self serving cliche of “thats not the message we are getting on the doorstep”

    It is inconcievable that people would vote for the actual insurgents who carried out violence in their name unless there was at a minimum moral ambivalence towards that violence – and trying to pretend otherwise based on what people may humour you or others with on their doorsteps simply doesnt wash.


    Uncomfortable as it may be for Unionists most Nationalists dont consider the IRA campaign as cirminal (ie they are morally ambivalent about it) and perhaps even more uncomfortable for Unionists is the fact that the British government didnt believe it either as evidenced by the fact that they have has bought into the conflict between our 2 islands narrative and by their support for Hume’s sucessful manouevere to gerymander the Provos permanently into government.

  • Dixie Elliott

    I blame it on the boogie…

  • Pete Baker

    “I am playing the ball.”

    You’re doing nothing of the sort, Turgon.

    The fact that you’re arguing that you are concerns me greatly.

  • Turgon

    Which bit of highlighting what Walker said about the SDLP regarding the IRA as “our bastards” does not relate to this blog?

  • Pete Baker

    That’s a disingenuous response, Turgon.

    You’ve attacked what you’ve described as “Walker’s agenda…”

    By all means criticise the content of someone’s post.

    But, as I’ve said, play the ball as you’d expect anyone to do with one of your posts.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I certainly also think John Hume is the greatest Irishman in the 20th century
    One of great things about John Hume was his ability to put Nation before Party.
    Certainly within my own life time, I have not heard any SDLP person utter anything which could be described as promoting violence.

    “So tactical prudence got the better part of political valour” is not a charge which could be levelled against the SDLP.
    Their personal courage is always higher than their detractors.

    But political partisans within SDLP and SF-IRA overdo the “it was us wot won it”. Which is kinda childish but touching all the same.
    We already have the example of Hume putting Nation before Party……and of course most SDLP people will support that notion or at least pay lip service to it.
    And we have that big SF-IRA mural that the tourists love “Everyone …Republican and otherwise has a part to play”. And of course every SF person will support or pay lip service to that.
    Yet from the other side of their mouths they will claim that the Peace was their doing….almost alone.
    The raher sad thing is that nationalists and republicans are in a better place than 1965 “Londonderry” not merely because of SDLP politics or IRA terrorism.
    The laughter of grandchildren which brightens every weekend came…….and I dont celebrate it….from both.

    The destiny of SDLP and SF-IRA is actually entwined. And no SDLP or SF party member will thank me for saying so.
    Nationalism/Republicanism…….as History shows moves forward with violence and politics. And backwards.
    The right tactic at the right time is the lesson of History.
    If SDLP is accepted as “Nationalist” and SF-IRA as “Republican”, they are merely labels. Some Republican activists of my acquaintance are actually philosophically nationalist…..some SDLP persons I know are philosophically republican.
    Not every republican is addicted to violence.
    Not every nationalist is addicted to peace.

    To maximise and go beyond 42% nationalist and republican share of vote…SDLP and SF actually need each other.
    If SF is seen to falter, it is no certainty that the SDLP picks up votes (dissidents can pick up recruits and votes). If SDLP falters again its no guarantee that the votes get picked up by SF-IRA. (Alliance is on one side of SDLP).

    Obviously over a lot of election cycles, there will be an ebb and flow of votes. And mutual insults abut “Stoops” and “Provos” but essentially this is for partisans… by passes the nationalist/republican voter.
    The obituary of SDLP has been written not least on Slugger O’Toole before May.
    As has the obituary of SF……here also……amusingly in the early months of this year by unionist Pollyannas promoting the rise and rise of the UNFPNC. Is their analysis one I should credit?
    No I dont think so either.

  • “Hume’s sucessful manouevere”

    Hume was only a minor actor in the so called peace process, Sammy. Both governments, unsurprisingly, have acted to protect their institutions and main economic interests and have left us to the tender mercies of our Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. At present the godfathers are in relatively benign mode but that’s hardly likely to be permanent.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Indeed there is a long history of ambivalence within the nationalist/republican community.
    “Whiskey in the Jar”, “Brennan on the Moor”, “Ned of the Hill”, “Mountains of Pomeroy” and a lot of songs celebrate the tory, raparee or “social bandit”….its part of our tradition as is the Hajduk tradition in the Balkans, mosstroops in Scotland or commancheros in Arizona.
    But I dont think the partisans in SF and SDLP are ambivalent.

    SF believes in violence when its “right”
    SDLP doesnt.
    Daniel O’Connell said that ” nothing morally wrong can be politically correct”
    Nice words. But he was a politician also.

  • I do not mind people playing the man against me. We both know it happens to me (and you) regularly. Remind me the last time you rode to my defence when I was “man played”

  • Pete Baker

    “I do not mind people playing the man against me. We both know it happens to me (and you) regularly.”


    That’s not a valid defence of your comments playing the man.

  • Maybe not but pointing out Walker’s dishonesty over the SDLP was playing the ball as I would contend i pointing out the fact that he has an agenda in all this.

    Pointing out that you have never censured anyone for man playing me is simply stating a fact (and a degree of hypocrisy in your part). Or is that man playing?

  • Pete,
    I am off to bed. probably best to refer this one to Mick as I do not think we are going to agree on it.

  • Pete Baker

    “he has an agenda in all this.”

    There you go again…

    “Pointing out that you have never censured anyone for man playing me is simply stating a fact (and a degree of hypocrisy in your part). Or is that man playing?”

    I don’t have the time to moderate every comment zone.

    And, again, that’s not a valid defence of your comments playing the man.

    But where there’s form, I’ll take an interest.

  • Alias

    There is a lot of hagiography spewed about John Hume, and most of originates as state-sponsored propaganda.

    While John Hume promoted so-called “constitutional nationalism” in preference to other methods, it was always curiously overlooked that he was promoting British constitutional nationalism and not Irish constitutional nationalism so it is a deliberate misnomer to refer to him or his politics as Irish.

    The constitution he promoted was the British constitution which declared that the Irish nation in its sovereign territory had no national rights that were separate from their national rights of other British nationals. Therefore, they had no right to national self-determination and no right to a sovereign nation-state wherein that right was to be exercised. In contrast, the constitution that he rejected was the constitution of the Irish nation and its sovereign state which declared the exact opposite to be the case.

    A nationalist is anyone who promotes the right of his nation to self-determination. John Hume, in rejecting the right to the Irish nation in NI to self-determination, is not an Irish nationalist. He is in fact a British nationalist since he has promoted the constitution which declares that the British nation has the legitimate right to self-determination and not the Irish nation, and that it is British nationals who are legitimately sovereign, having legitimate ownership of the formerly disputed territory.

    At best he can be referred to as a someone who sought the best for his nation within the sovereign British state, believing that it had no right to be a sovereign nation that those who he declared had the right to be a sovereign nation also had an obligation to treat the non-sovereign nation in its territory with equal civil rights. At worst he can be referred to as a traitor to his nation, dedicating his political efforts to delegitimising its national rights.

  • slug

    I think another way in which having two parties is good, is that they do compete and that keeps them focussed on the median nationalist.

    Equally, having two unionist parties does the same – focusing on the median unionist.

    As such, if one screws up, the other can step up..

  • fitzjameshorse1745


  • fitzjameshorse1745

    When the votes are cast next Assembly Election, its likely that the combined nationalist/republican vote will be within 2 percentage points of its “norm”. A 2% drop will not signal its end. Or a 2% rise signal breakthru.
    But the distribution among the two parties will be possibly different…allowing or the AP vote on one side nibbling at the edge of SDLP or being vulnearble to it. Likewise the dissident weirdos on the other side.
    The number of nationalist/republican seats in the Executive will be the same.
    Yes …..”Slug” is right here .it does keep the two parties focussed.

    Arguably two parties on either side is ideal for unionists and republicans. But Id suggest that three is too many. A real dissident presence whether abstentionist or electoral is a step too far.
    TUV presence or even liberal unionism/Tory strand is tolerable for unionists as long as it doesnt hit them in terms of votes….

    The middle ground is arguable too small to be fought ove by more than one Party. The AP went into a dip when the NIWC emerged in its South Belfast and North own heartlands. With NIWC off the board, the Greens have nibbled at AP vote……but not significantly. The emergence of a risible Tory party (in electoral terms) will nibble further at the AP/UUP vote.

  • fin

    *ahem* Turgon

    “he drove to Dublin with two other independents, Paddy Devlin and Paddy Kennedy, to plead that Catholics under attack from loyalists along the Falls Road needed guns for defence. They saw a senior government official, who refused them.

    Rumoured for years, the story was finally confirmed by published government documents in 2000. O’Hanlon said he never regretted it because the Falls was in danger of being overrun by loyalists and the part-time police militia, the B Specials, and the guns would be purely defensive. August 1969 in Belfast left a lot of people who tried later to counter IRA influence in the Catholic community wondering how they would have behaved if their homes had been in Bombay Street, burned to the ground. Even much later, Hume often said that the Provisional IRA was born in the ashes of Bombay Street.”

    From Paddy’s Obit carried in most papers in the UK & Ireland.

  • Reader

    Wolf Tone: To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, these were my means.
    So, at some point in the last 200 years, Republicans got the objects and means mixed up.

  • Granni Trixie

    re the Brian and Turgon spat:

    I do not like the use of the word ‘lies’ – a less confrontational way of looking at it is that Brian probably unthinkingly wrote something with hindsight he cannot stand over.
    We have all done it, are chastened when someone points it out and try to improve (and not to be caught out again).
    Its how we self educate. No need to launche an attack on ‘agendas’.

    FJH: re your eulogising about John Hume.
    Its not necessary to go over the top. He was Ok, OK? The fact that without any sense of irony a cynic such as you make such a claim is the interesting point. Anyway, phrases such as “greatest Irishman…” etc is a turn off as far as I’m concerned.

  • Turgon:

    “There were of course disgraceful episodes in the SDLP’s legacy. Not standing against a terrorist who was in the process of starving himself to death was one. Far worse was not standing in the election after Sands’ death:”

    There are plenty of examples of where politicians of all stripes have used the atavistic sectarian urges of the wider population in lieu of principled arguments. The SDLP are undoubtedly guilty of this, but very significantly less than the DUP, SF, the UUP or – most egregiously – the TUV.

  • Greenflag

    John Hume knew that politics is the art of the possible . Whereas you seem to believe it’s a ‘theoretical ‘ game in which the winner achieves his or her objective by winning the debate?

    So again what is your ‘solution’ for Northern Ireland or do you have one thats any different from the present armistice ?.

  • Brian Walker

    Granni Thanks for the words from Planet Sane.. The “bastards” ref hardly imples that the SDLP were secret IRA supporters – otherwise why call them bastards? It’s just that they were part of the same community and had to put up with them somehow. You can only keep condemning for so long. The security forces were a more promising target to call to account than the Provos.

    Some people above decided I was accusing the SDLP of connivance – and went on to enjoy themselves with a wee scold, the great NI therapy. An improbable charge though, because it would have contradicted the whole thrust of the piece.. But then we all run the risk of being read through someone else’s blinkers….

  • Neil

    On bread and butter policies there’s little or no difference with Sinn Fein

    Waiting for SF fully to divest its revolutionary canon presents the SDLP with an open goal.

    So SF’s leftist leanings leave the stoops with an open goal to shoot at, yet there’s little or no difference between their and butter policies? Utter shite.

    To read this thread someone might think that the stoops had done something that warranted some degree of optimism within the party and that they were now cutting into SF’s electorate.

    Of course that’s the opposite of the truth. The SDLP are on a downward trajectory, it’s been suggested on this site by myself and others that their attempts to get Rodney Connor into F&ST will cost them votes, and having Worzel Gummidge running the party with her decided lack of impulse control is hardly an advantage.

    It’s actually alluded to in the post that Margaret’s doing better after a ‘shaky start’. What evidence is there of this? Well, no public balls ups recently. In fact her complete absence from the news is an improvement on her appearing regularly and making a tit of herself.

    Then we have the likes of young Connall. On Nolan daily, today he was campaigning against 20 quid all you can drink promotions, because as we all know someone who spends 10 drinks is ok in one session, but all you can drink for 20 quid, well someone might have 11 or 12 drinks and then they’d be twatted beyond recognition. Waste of time and energy.

    The SDLP have nothing left to give, they’re on the road travelled by the UU’s with the same end in sight. They have nothing to offer, and of course, if you happen to be one of the people who likes to waste their vote in that direction and don’t want to beliee me, just check out the election results. They could be considered as actual proof unlike the contradictory, evidence free waffle at the top of this page.

  • @greenflag “John Hume knew that politics is the art of the possible . Whereas you seem to believe it’s a ‘theoretical ‘ game in which the winner achieves his or her objective by winning the debate?”

    That’s very succinct. There’s a mountain of argument to be had between it though. Isn’t it the job of principled politicians to move things into a situation where strength of argument rather than weight of numbers becomes the deciding factor?

  • Turgon

    That may look like a climb down but is not. At the end of the day you stated that the SDLP was more worried about condemning the army than the terrorists. That is simply untrue. So you are continuing the lie.

    I may have little time for the SDLP but I am willing to stick to facts when attacking them. I avoid making things up: you were making things up about them: that is usually called lying.

    Still I had a bit of fun: you seem to have got annoyed (pleasing me even more). Hence, all in all a good evening was had by all.

    Incidentally you read other people through extraordinarily strong blinkers yourself. I will not link to the multiple examples lest I be accused of man playing.

    However, let us be clear here Walker you made up untruths about the SDLP.

  • Paul, where would you find a principled politician? Don’t you recognise an oxymoron when it’s staring you in the face? 😉

    Hume has undoubted ability, especially in the realm of networking, but within his own party he appears to have acted in the manner of an old fashioned Catholic bishop. I suspect his anti-Unionist rhetoric counted more at the ballot box than his ‘post-Nationalist’ and other ramblings.

    I drew my inspiration from Ray Davey, a founder of the Corrymeela Community; I steered well clear of the confrontational street politicking of the likes of Hume and Paisley, politicking that unsurprisingly set the mobs at each others’ throats – and worse.

  • Granni Trixie

    Nevin: Ray Davey, John Morrow et al are real heroes to me too. Protestant ministers with insights prior to ’69 that a place was needed where people could get to know each other through ‘work camps’.
    I would argue that many ideas,practices and values emenating from Corrymeela have transformed NI culture underpinning the peace process. Most notable, is has disseminated value for dialogue and compromise as alternatives to violence.
    However, I know some see the same values as weakness (is Turgon about?).

  • Turgon

    Right so not standing against Sands or Carron was less severe than what the UUP have done.

    Or how about O’Loan proposing uniting with a party which supports murder and denounces the police for investigating potential crimes?

    In spite of all that the SDLP has done I accept that they oppose violence. I may not be particularly fond of them but I accept their non violence: just as I do for the UUP, DUP, TUV, Alliance etc. All may have made mistakes. However, attempts to claim that one lot were a bit better or worse than another lot are nonsense.

    All were opposed to murder here just as most people here were. Attempts to rewrite history to say that everyone was involved are lies and must be challenged as such. I will challenge Walker when he lies about the SDLP.

    There are parties which supported and continue to support terrorism they are Sinn Fein along with the PUP microparty and the other micro mcro parties. They are qualitatively different from the others.

  • Turgon

    Following Pete Baker’s position on me attacking Walker, I await with interest this comment being ruled as man playing. I do not think I have passed comment on Corrymeela ever and certainly have not on this thread. As such Granni Trixie’s comments must be inappropriate.

  • Granni Trixie

    There you go Turgon, I stand corrected,having demonstrated a false impression of your attitude. Sorry.

  • GT, you’ll appreciate these remarks from Ray at the grand opening in 1965: “We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’, open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all.”

    I knew Ray from QUB where he was a student chaplain but I first got involved in the centre in 1971.

    I prefer this language to the two door approach of many in the good relations field: one door marked Catholics; the other marked Protestants (and Others).

  • Turgon

    Granni Trixie,
    You are not dmonstrating a false impression. You do not know my views on Corrymeela and I am not telling you them.

    My point is not against you at all: I am sorry you have got involved but the example was too good to pass up.

    My point is that is on slugger if we are forced to stick solely and only to the absolute specifics of the debate at hand the whole thing will become unworkable.

    Hence, people can make utterly untrue statements and we cannot say “You said the opposite last week.” Some degree of inference from a person’s known views is necessary. This is a politics website and not a debating chamber about politics if you see the difference. If we force it to become a debating chamber it is possible (though unlikely) that the quality of debate will increase. However, the amount of debate will almost certainly crash to a much lower level.

    Actually I think the man playing is not too bad on here. I get more than most and do not mind. I can give it out and take it. My bobjection is to tghose who can give it out but then whinge when they get it back again.

    If you want my views on Corrymeela or anything else I am happy to give them. When I started here I made a concious decision never to tell any lies of any sort. It is morally correct but more importantly it means you do not have to remember your invented views etc.

    ASnyhow no offence taken at all. However, Pete and Mick please note: if you really mean solely on the issues you would now have to censure Granni Trixie for something which doesn not bother me at all.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh Granni Trixie…….Im not a cynic……Im a skeptic.
    As Oscar Wilde said “a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
    Whatever my many many many faults thats not one of them.

    Of course I eulogise him (not being a member of his Party) which might actually mean something.
    Seemingly you are the cynic here…..of course you belong to a party partisan….which I am not.
    In THIS instance my opinion might be more valid than yours

  • John East Belfast

    “The SDLP have nothing left to give, they’re on the road travelled by the UU’s with the same end in sight. They have nothing to offer, and of course, if you happen to be one of the people who likes to waste their vote in that direction and don’t want to beliee me,”

    That is just bollix.
    There is a core nationalist vote that will bever vote SF/IRA just as there is a core unioinist vote that will never vote DUP/Paisleyism.

  • Alias

    Greenie, spitting and farting is also the art of the possible, so that’s rather grand-sounding but nonetheless meaningless phraseology.

    If you declare that your intention is to assert the right of your nation to self-determination then it isn’t ‘pragmatism’ to renounce that aim and assert that your nation has no such right: it is simply rejection of the aim. They either had that right of they did not. There is no other true position. The British state declared they had no such right, and John Hume agreed with them. That’s the end of the debate. National rights are non-negotiable. John Hume is not a post-nationalist. If he was, he would have rejected British nationalism and its claim to a sovereign state for the British nation to exercise their right to self-determination. He is as he acted: a British nationalist. So the non-sovereign nation enjoys equal civil rights as British citizens within the British state but they do not enjoy equal national rights since they traded their national rights in their entirety.

    As for NI. My solution is the only workable solution: two nations require two states. Since both nations are entitled to self-determination, each of them must have a state dedicated to it.

  • Alias

    It’s about first principles, innit? Some things are not within the gift of political hacks, and fundamental rights that underpin nations and the freedoms they aspire to or have obtained are among them. After all, it would have been more pragmatic of Churchill to have surrendered to Germany rather than brought havoc to his nation but thankfully he understood the value of rights. Hacks like Mr Hume use terms like “post-nationalist” (which he, as a British nationalist, was not) and “post-ideological” to give their own duplicity a thin progressive-sounding veneer…