The SDLP are still alive – and they give the distinct impression that they see this as something of an achievement.
As continuing (relative) peace brings with it political consensus to both sides of the constitutional fence, the SDLP like the UUP are armed with new and rather uninspiring leaders as they continue to struggle to find a gap in the green and orange political markets.
For the UUP, with Tom (Elliott) the Orangeman in charge and with the Tory and DUP link-ups off the agenda perhaps the recent spat between the Orange Order and the DUP might offer a small window of opportunity – but it does rather look as if the new leader’s main ambition seems to already have been achieved – by him actually becoming leader.The DUP will be losing little sleep as the memory of Mrs Robinson’s exploits and the threats from the TUV-one-man-band both fade.
For the SDLP the new leader has not been pulling up any political trees and has been struggling a bit with the increased media exposure and an unimpressed public. Maggie, a little flustered and perhaps a little out of her depth desperately needs an issue as SF carry on, as ever, growing at her party’s expense. As a good Catholic girl, Maggie probably says a little prayer to St Anthony of an evening -the saint of choice for those unsure of which route to follow.
So what should she do next?
Well the last time the SDLP actually laid a glove on SF was when they argued that the British government’s position regarding On the Runs (OTRs) – as agreed with SF – was in fact a ruse to allow the British military, with blood on their hands, off the legal hook by effectively granting them an amnesty along with the OTRs.
We were then treated to the amusing spectacle of the SDLP lecturing SF on the evils of the British war machine and how the perfidious Englezes needed to be brought to book. A clearly embarrassed and outflanked SF duly capitulated and the British binned the bill.
Well perhaps there is another opportunity to discomfort SF sitting under everybody’s noses – the big (white) elephant sitting in the living room and in Palace Road in Lisburn.
Under the GFA/STA all the combatants have left the battlefield, no more RUC/UDA/UDR/UFF/IRA/UVF/INLA and the army only allowed out under the supervision of the revamped Ulster controlled PSNI. Well not quite, we still have Nationalists’ favourite bogey-people MI5 – who haven’t gone away – still operating (with 16% of their spend going on their activities in Northern Ireland).
SF, having negotiated the STA, which sets out the terms of their operation in Ulster and their relationship with the PSNI are understandably a bit coy on the subject.
The SF position, as best as can be worked out, is as follows – the dissers (dissidents) are criminals and should be dealt with by the police so there is therefore no need for MI5 to be in Ulster and to be employed against them. There is no need to support/help MI5 because MI5 don’t need to do anything and shouldnt be here.
We now have the interesting constitutional situation that the guys who get to (jointly) appoint the Justice minster and the Attorney General and are nominally in charge of Police and Justice don’t support those who are hiding in the bushes and claiming to be upholding the law.
The DUP of course, used to bang on about this before they were dragged screaming and kicking over the transfer of Police and Justice finishing line and are now tucked up snugly in bed with Republicans and have gone, rather quiet, you know. The seemingly just-happy-to-be-still-alive SDLP have done a bit of minor banging on about the topic and issued a statement after the recent dissident operation near Dundalk was foiled which perhpas heralds some fighting spirit.
The SDLP argue reasonably, that good Police work, with the support of the community is the way to defeat the dissers and perhaps Maggie may have found an issue to challenge SF on and an issue which SF seems to be decidely uncomfortable with.
The recent shenanigans in Derry back up this viewpoint with the activiities of the crypto-paramilitary MI5 arguably more counter prodcutive than counter insurgency and for anyone in any doubt of this check out what our friends at Erigi have to say.
So gwan Maggie, give it a lash, prove your critics wrong and take the fight to SF on their own turf – before its too late.