Post election, the SDLP’s position is like…

West Ham struggling near the bottom of the table desperately trying to avoid the drop… What particularly brought them to mind was Robbie Keane’s spectacular miss against Blackburn Rovers at the weekend…

Despite sharing some of the same institutional problems with the UUP, the SDLP remain the more competitive, at least at Assembly level. But in both sets of elections, their long term decline has continued.

And there have already been glowering looks (though nothing said, concretely at least) at Margaret Ritchie, from others in the top team, a ‘manager’ with less than 18 months experience in the job. There have been doubts expressed publicly even amongst those responsible for putting her in charge of the club.

In the Assembly election the SDLP had a competitive chance of winning in six seats. Only one of those competitions went their way.

Yet it is not just poor leadership that’s at fault, but a long term culture of amateurism and the predominance of parish fiefdoms, which have dogged the party from the time it was a virtual hegemony within Northern Irish nationalism.

The SDLP lacks ambition in the same way soccer teams do that languish too long near the drop zone. Even their own fans begin to hate them for bringing them seemingly endless misery.

One exception was Declan O’Loan, who almost defied the pattern both by hard work across the constituency and by defying team discipline and looking for a merger with the opposition. A bit like a member of the Hammers’ team suggesting they merge with Millwall.

And yet he almost won a seat many (including myself) had written off before the campaign began.

They also lost a seat South Antrim to the DUP and failed to gain three more in:

  • East Antrim (where Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan easily scooped up most of the nationalist votes);
  • Strangford (where the margin of defeat increased despite an influx of new nationalist voters);
  • South Down (where the party had the equivalent of Robbie Keane’s open goal).

That last would have brought the score in the match between themselves and Sinn Fein to 1-1. Not a great result, admittedly, but better than continuing the years of defeats at the hands of a better organised, better financed, better disciplined and more professional rival.

Even quality strikers like Robbie Keane tend to misfire when playing with a team that’s come to expect the kind of failure that comes with steady decline.

Their one success came when Omagh based former councillor (who lost his seat in 2005) Joe Byrne saw off two spoiler campaigns to take the seat formerly held by local hospital campaigner Keiran Deeney.

But look at where they have lost these competitions. They are all in rural Ulster. And the waves are closing in behind them as Sinn Fein replace (admittedly not as rapidly as they might) their older generation of MLAs with with committed youngsters, like Phil Flanagan in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

The worst that can be said of Margaret Ritchie is that she failed to turn the party’s fortunes around in the very short time she’s been in charge. But, with the exception of her own traditionally conservative rural Catholic base, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh and East Londonderry the SDLP is shrinking rapidly towards the towns (ie, in the opposite direction of the Ulster Unionists).

Not only will that limit the overall size and quality of the pool of players available to them, it will also, by default if not design, entrap them in the same kinds of urban fastnesses from which the Irish Labour party has found it almost impossible to break out.

In the “Little Belgium” of Northern Ireland (ie, two non-interoperable polities in one), that’s the equivalent of ‘permanent opposition’.

The SDLP needs to find, from wherever it can find it, the energy, leadership and above all, disciplined organisation to reverse its declining fortunes. The party’s managerial approach (long before Ritchie took over) has been to let the players (the candidates) sort everything out for themselves.

They were able to away with that when when they (effectively) had no opposition back in the 70s and 80s. But times have changed.

Like West Ham, the SDLP is a ‘club’ which often dreams of its glorious past. Paddy Power has West Ham at 7/1 to avoid the drop this season. And like the SDLP, they may continue to subsist on the scraps of the larger parties’ table for some considerable time and several seasons to come.

But changing the ‘manager’ will mean absolutely nothing if the outmoded Corinthian culture of the ‘old club’ remains the same. And, they need to understand there is a war on.


  • Nunoftheabove

    I’d say in the circumstances their performance wasn’t as bad as it might have been and deep down they must have feared that it could be worse for all their unconvincing optimism.

    Awful leadership, abysmal messaging, limited/poor infrastructure on the ground, even some of their ill-named ‘rising stars’ only scraped through. It’s their banality which enables them to benefit a lot from transfers but of course it’s the same banality that’s turning voters off in the first place. There’s a staleness about them too, they can’t seem to make their mind up quite what they are or would like the electorate to think they are; self-confident catholic Tories with enough sharpness to pick its battles with SF, the respectable face of northern nationalism or a more bland everyman diluted Green Alliance is another impression they try and pull when it suits. As ever, they’re hedging their bets and lack any stomach for a real scrap, any real willingness to break from the past. They’re a not-quite-as-bad (yet) nationalist UUP.

    There’s a core part of their traditional support base – perhaps not critical mass exactly, but still – of pious lace-curtain Micks who themselves consider SF in the same way that Tom Elliott does.

  • J Kelly

    good post, all I can say is that the SDLP dont have the people to reinvent themselves because the key players all have responsibility for the decline, Durkan, Attwood, McDevitt and co cant take a step back and objectively have a look because it may put their seats in danger.

  • perseus

    superlative diagnosis Mick,

    Ritchie benaut ( 40 yrs a commentator )
    said the trick in cricket commentating
    is not to speak unless you have something to add ..
    similiarly with the above by nunoftheabove i’d give the same acumen.

    – “of pious lace-curtain Micks ” .. awesome and complete

  • Greenflag

    ‘There’s a staleness about them too’

    SDLP ‘staleness is a reflection of the even greater ‘staleness’ that exists within the broad NI electorate . Almost half the electorate did’nt bother to vote which in itself is a reflection of a growing widespread disenchantment with elected politicians everywhere .Politicians everywhere particularly in the anglosphere countries are increasingly seen NOT as representatives of those who elected them but as ‘hired ‘ hands for the corporate oligarchs who have gouged out whatever was left of democracy to suit their corporate agendas -chief among them being the international banking cabal who dictate to even the US government . What chance NI or ROI or even the UK against such tyranny ? Two -slim and none .


  • pippakin

    Foul! Margaret Ritchie got in that was better than some hoped. I see no connection to West Ham who are very familiar with the ups and downs of the premier league, and in any case were around before the SDLP and will still be around and about the premier league when the SDLP are long gone from what passes for the premier division in the north. In fact technically the SDLP could be said to already be second division and possibly Sunday afternoon kick about.

    There is really only room for one Premier League national party, just as there is only room for one unionist party. The system in place means they won’t die or even be relegated they will just fade away, unlike West Ham.

  • Mick Fealty


    There are three leagues in the Premier:

    – The top five/six (depending on who’s getting a major handout from which stupendously wealthy sovereign fund to keep them there).

    – The mediocre middle… zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…….

    – The competitive dregs at the bottom, where there is some excitment in life, but it’s always in pursuit of the avoidance of pain… missed goals, late equilisers and endless drubbing are the order of the day…

    To foul up my own analogy the SDLP’s position may be more akin to a joyless version of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe …

    If there is any hope for them it should lie in the realisation that there was an open goal left there to them by Sinn Fein…

    They either didn’t see the opportunity or just so demoralised by the long march towards failure they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it was possible.

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    It has been a few, or more, years since I was nagged into paying attention to the premier or any other division. I only rouse myself now in defence of youthful allegiance. Personally I don’t think the SDLP can approach the dizzy heights of West Ham until they too have been bought by an Icelandic group – and survived.

    And let me tell you that some of the best teams in the world have been known to miss the odd open goal. In the case of the SDLP though the odd word out is ‘best’. One simply picks oneself up etc…

    Its not over but they do need fresh blood and that’s the problem, they are fading away because the best invariably want to be in the premier league.

  • Hardly relegation candidates as they are third in terms of votes and fourth in terms of seats. Mid table team which is dropping.
    More Liverpool or Manchester City (dreams of past glories and a sense of entitlement)) than West Ham.
    In other respects the analysis is reasonable. Success begets Success. Failure begets Failure.
    Conal McDevitt was tetchy last night on UTV. He can be dismissive of one councillor (a “serial defector”) but he is bluffing when he claims he has heard no rumblings of discontent at Ritchies leadership.

    Of course theres three different SDLP Debates. The gloves off no holds barred debate which takes place behind closed doors. Thats a debate at “Top Table” level AND at a second tier level of defeated candidates and wider activist pool. Its a debate that wishes the SDLP well.

    The “good reception on doorsteps” optimism (not untrue) has given way to the number of anecdotes telling how Margaret was an issue. Not untrue either. Just different emphasis.
    Did Ritchie cost SDLP votes? Or gain votes?
    I have no doubt it was the former.
    The resources and talent pool available to the SDLP has shrunk. Which is bad news for Nationalism as Nationalism needs two voices…an alternative to Sinn Féin.

    I dont read too much into the Geography..east/west or urban/rural but rather I see that the SDLP has been slightly distorted thru the influence of South Belfast.
    A “new SDLP” mirroring “new Labour” has grown up there. Lisburn Road is Islington.
    Decisions were made in Islington for Sheffield, Sunderland and Salford for an Electorate who felt Islington was detached.
    Likewise Fermanagh-South Tyrone and Balmoral.

    Thats the challenge the SDLP faces. Reining in South Belfast …where HQ is based, where both TV stations are based, where a lot of journalists are based, where QUB is based, where too many other Parties are represented leading to a sense of political professional having as much in common with Alliance, UUP and Green activists than any real connexion to Fermanagh -South Tyrone.
    The rebuilding process is ongoing and patchy. Young folks like Gráinne Teggart, Eamon McAuley and Claire Hanna are now on Councils. And thats good. And the South Belfast influence is sending back young activists to Mid Ulster, South Down wherever.

    But the SDLP shows far too much interest in the opinions of those who dont wish them well.
    In November Conall McDevitt facilitated a Conference discussion featuring Duncan Morrow, Dr Norman Hamilton. Which went swimmingly until a question/intervention from the floor which was actually more in tune with real SDLP thought than well intentioned “outreach”.
    Likewise Fearghal McKinney facilitated a discussion on Irish Unity with three TDs from the Republic (Brian Hayes not much interested……Mary Hanafin left early to go to a Rugby match….Joanne Tuffy who had never really thought about it)…..not forgetting Davey Adams.
    And not to mention a fringe meeting for Human Rights Consortium.
    Outreach gone maaaaaaaad.
    Are any of these people going to join SDLP?.
    Vote for it?
    Or even wish it well?
    Not likely.

    Time SDLP listened to its own members and its own voters. (Any chance of a Fringe Meeting for ex-SDLP members who actually wish the SDLP well?)
    And what they are saying is Ritchie must go.

  • Oh just on the Football thing.
    It was no fun being a Manchester United supporter in the 1970s and 1980s. Watching Liverpool add another title year after year.
    “Come back when you win 18 titles” they said.

    Now lean years for Liverpool. Likewise SDLP.
    Which kinda means all SDLP need is a Scholes, Neville, Beckham and Giggs to come thru. Hmmm.

  • Nunoftheabove


    More Leeds than Man City or L’pool surely although I take Mick’s point about mid-table mediocrity too.

    To me it’s more a case of them not being sure whether they’re man-marking or zonally marking and not being certain whether either works or quite how to do it properly.

    Good shout on the taking-interest-in-people-who-don’t-give-a-fiddlers/and/or can’t/won’t-help-them, it’s all ham-fisted image management by fairly vague association as far as I can see.

    To be fair to them, internal standards of democracy have never been that high to begin with. It became Hume’s personal vehicle to a large extent once Fitt, Devlin etc had peeled off with a few placemen on board and reliable spuds like Mallon to keep the various parishes signed up and there’s no one been willing or able since to grab it or to democratize it. That lack of a real identifiable centre of gravity is what comes through in their campaigning and I believe explains the half-heartedness of a lot of their activists and the tameness of their messaging. It explains a lot of the half-heartedness of its electorate too.

    They’ve also never gotten the hang of triangulation either, comically so. Either go all in with that or you have your own platform and stick to it; pissing about in the margins whining about the lack of consensus one moment and being all for it the next when the wind changes direction isn’t smart and they haven’t the skill to pull it off even if they did decide to travel that country road.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    your argument fell down when you described Robbie Keane as a quality striker..

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Sorry for the ”y’.

  • SethS

    I can’t really be bothered with the football analogy (I’m a Stoke Supporter) but if we must the SDLP seem a bit liie a team trying to be amateurs when everyone else has gone professional.

    SF and now the DUP seem to be just way more professional and committed to being visible, and putting in the hard graft to get voters out. The SDLP seem to think that hoping it’ll be alright if they just turn up on the day everything will be ok.

    Now I am sure there are hardworking SDLP candidates out there, but they seem to have has a number of near misses that with a bit of effort could have fallen their way.

    At the end of the day, most people dn’t read the manifestos and vote on tribal lines or gut feelings. In general most people I are more likely to give preferences to people they know or have met or who is visible.

    I’m not sure changing the message would have a massive impact at this stage on voters, I think htey just need to do the donkey work. Though as Nunoftheabove points out, perhaps a more conherent and consisent message might might create more energy amongst activists.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The key to this is the lack of an activist base. For the years when they were working to create a central ground in NI, SF and the DUP built up a support base from the ground up. It took many years. SDLP dont have that.

    Do the SDLP even ask people to contribute to the party? I went to a few youth SDLP meetings in my university days and I think I would have been the type of person that would have helped the party, may even have stood for the local council. Never been asked. I was asked by a Sinn Fein member would I be interested in joining the party. It seems to me that Sinn Fein are a party that comes to you whereas SDLP want you to come to them.

    Re: the football analogy. I am an Aston Villa supporter, and I can tell you that the experience is very similar. We nearly got into the Europe there a couple of years ago but these days it seems that we just cant close out any match.

    There are two leadership issues facing the party. The Margaret Ritchie issue is difficult. To dump her now would seem like panic but on the other hand, there can be no doubt that many SDLP supporters would give a sigh of relief. Nearly everyone in my family, who I know to support SDLP has said that they will not vote for them again if she is still leader. I have heard that atleast 20 times in the last few weeks and that is a significant proportion of the people that I would talk about politics to. Maybe dumping her in the Autumn would be a sign that the Party is listening – to say “yeah, we get it”. Sdlp need to start to sound like real people – so Attwood should not be the leader. He is not bad IMO, but he is not the type of leader they need. Maybe Patsy McGlone should take it, do for the SDLP what Michael Howard did for the Tories. Safe pair of hands and instill a bit of discipline.

  • “Despite sharing some of the same institutional problems with the UUP”

    There may be other problems too. To lose one decent ‘nationalist’ party, Mr Fealty, could be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both would look like carelessness.

  • JR

    Can anyone who knows the system a bit better tell me why the SDLP return was so poor compared with their persentage vote. How with 14.2% of the vote they could only elect 14 MLA’s?

    Is this to do with transfers or something?

    It seem to happen with both Nationalist parties though. Sinn Fein/Sdlp got 41.1 precent of the vote and 43 seats while UUP and DUP got 54 seats with their 43.2%.

  • Mick Fealty



  • Mick Fealty

    SF vote management was good in West Belfast again, but S Down, Mid Ulster were very poor, and it definitely cost them a seat in Upper Bann. Martin mentioned it as something they were concerned about in his first UTV post election interview.

    I could go on and on and on about the SDLP’s failure to protect their man in South Antrim, and the through other approach to FST, Strangford and South Down. But I won’t. Sufficient to say the party doesn’t have the first clue where their voters are outside the candidates home area.

    Alliance and DUP get joint first prize for vote management this time out. UUP do tallies in some place, but they too have never taken the time to ask who is voting for them, and just as importantly who is not.

  • “One exception was Declan O’Loan, who almost defied the pattern both by hard work across the constituency ..”

    I’ve had a look at the SDLP and SF seat totals across the three council areas – Moyle, Ballymoney and Ballymena – that more or less make up the North Antrim constituency during the past three elections: 2001, 2005 and 2011.

    SDLP: 10 > 8 > 5

    SF: 2 > 8 > 8

    I don’t know how much work O’Loan and his colleagues have put in but when a constituent friend of mine sought his help he failed not only step up to the mark, he acted as a barrier.

  • Mick Fealty

    If that was the same mark you asked me to step up to then I can perfectly understand why. Watch your step again Nev. I’m not going to tolerate any more tree pointing.

  • A lot of football analogies on this thread. Perhaps I could provide one which relates to Gaelic Football. There is a standing local joke here – How do you survive being shot at by a firing squad? Answer – you pick your shooters from the Fermanagh football team.

    For Fermanagh football team, read SDLP activists. Their vote management was absolutely awful. Losing Tommy Gallagher’s seat was bordering on the criminal. It also could not have help him that an SDLP canvasser visiting my home told our family (and presumably others) that Gallagher persuaded the party that Fearghal McKinney was incompetent because of his “poor showing” at the general election and that resultantly, Gallagher secured the nomination. You would have thought that the party would keep that kind of gossip behind closed doors.

  • FuturePhysicist

    An unfair analysis, West Ham are doing so rubbish they’d envy a 3-1 defeat.

  • john


    The mismatch in % of votes to % of seats is interesting. The main factor is vote management and the ability to balance the vote amongst a number of candidates and the SDLP and SF should have done better in several constituencies. Part of it is luck the SDLP finished 7th in 7 or 8 constituencies whilst the UUP scraped home in last place in a number of constituencies. Some of the other comments on slugger have pointed to the higher turnout in Nationalist constituencies which when looking across the whole of Northern Ireland means a vote West of the Bann has slightly less value than a vote in the East.
    Another possible reason is there are a number of smaller ‘unionist parties who attract people who maybe wouldnt otherwise vote and their vote ultimately transfers its way back to either the UUP or DUP – This is an interesting point because if its true then all the more reason for more Nationalist parties, a new right of centre pro UI party or maybe the arrival of FG and FF North for STV elections (a good time considering the SDLP vote continues to slide) . The only problem with this theory though is a quick glance at the council elections and you can see a number of votes seem to be lost during each elimination so I dont know whether more parties does help Unionism or Nationalism. Any anoraks out there have any thoughts on this??

  • granni trixie

    BTW, Anna Lo was a social worker before she became Chief Exeuctive of Chinese Welfare Assocaition.

    From an email I have had from The Word it is clear that,like Tom Elliot, he just doesnt get it. Disgusted.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    JR. I think its more of a critical mass thing than transfers in a lot of places e.g. If a candidate hits 14% – guaranteed seat. Get below that & it depends on a whole raft of things but theoretically you could get 12% in every constituency and get no seats at all. They didn’t hit the necessary first prefs target in a number of constuencies to get in ever though they were agonisingly close in 3 or 4 places which had they won would have reflected more closely their overall vote. In contrast, SF are hungrier – they know they have to hit their critical mass targets because they won’t get too many transfers. Maybe SDLP are too reliant on transfers to make up the numbers.

    But when all’s said and done, the numbers are only a symptom of their deeper malaise, not the cause.

  • FuturePhysicist

    SDLP are more like Birmingham, decent enough defense but could do more going forward.

  • Mark

    Baby Irish …. that’s what the Italians called our Robbie ( among other things ) when Inter signed him as a nipper / goal hatcher way back when … the worst goal celebration ever . The front forward roll with follow up Billy the Kid impersonation , from Coventry to Milan .

  • Can you please define ‘tree-pointing’? I’ve seen it used many times on Slugger but I don’t know what it means.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ve black carded him.

  • Political Parties work on the basis that they are altruistic.
    They work for others.
    At least thats what they say.
    Watching Sinn Féin arrive at the Kings Hall Counting Centre was an interesting experience. They arrived together….enthusiastically in the manner of an school summer outing. There was a LOT of them….I suppose on a pro rata basis thats to be expected in a Count involving West Belfast. These were confident people who knew exactly what they were doing.
    They would claim and fair play to them….that its not about “them”….its about the people that they represent.
    But there cant be much doubt that their own interests are boosted by the process. Not a bad thing.
    Likewise there was a precision and professionalism about the Alliance people. Highly altruistic no doubt but I couldnt help feeling that they were also working in their own interests.
    As Lionel Hutz points out, he has not been approached by SDLP.
    I have….albeit in a fairly low key way.
    And I just dont think I have the degree of altruism required. Theres plainly “nothing in it for me”.
    Too much work. Too little reward.
    I dont suggest that there is a lack of motivation on the part of SDLP. Far from it.
    But there just isnt enough of them.

    “Whats in it for me”? …a legitimate question for any political person?
    Watching other parties I sensed there was something in it for them.

  • Mick Fealty

    FJH, you anticipated my next post on Alliance there.

  • Crubeen

    I am one of those who didn’t vote… could not be arsed to get off the buttocks and down to the polling station. The reason is simple and to be found at the end of “Animal Farm” where, the Pigs had taken over the Revolution and entered into a rapprochement with the Humans and the other Animals could not distinguish between them.

    To closely examine our politicians who have emerged from tribalism of a most exquisite blend is to view those who have the intellect to pursue the excesses of government but can’t be bothered and the rest who have the zeal but lack the intellect. That stated, all they have in common is the trough. There is indeed one politician (at least) who would never get my vote for displaying the utmost cowardice in the face of the enemy where the enemy happened to be the civil service (to which he /she was beholden) and whilst she/he is outstanding in that field how many others compete? Have we heard one politician honestly? Why have not those who are disaffected in the UUP or the SDLP issued a forthright public statement? Could the reason for that perhaps be that nobody wants to upset the trough?

    The constitutional question is settled for at least a generation. Why therefore does no party present a set of specific social or economic policies that would identify it as outstanding in the sea of mediocrity? Were I to see that I could be tempted to vote … if not cross the tribal divide? But I expect no change to the ordure that is ladled upon us for the greater glory of an incompetent civil service and vainglorious politicos who worship alongside.

    As Lord Gnome would agree – election … no change … trebles all round!

  • Mr Crumlin

    As possibly the only genuine West Ham supporter on slugger I feel I must say I am upset with the SDLP being compared to my beloved Hammers. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse!

    The only point I would make is that even in our dreadful season at least we still had player of the year and a born leader, Scotty Parker! Can the SDLP say the same?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I don’t think switching leaders will do it. The rot set in a long time ago. John Hume took over, filleted all the principles (and old timers) out of it that made it really interesting, turned it into his own personal vehicle, then abandoned it just as the party’s fortunes began to turn. Hume’s ego and his overriding desire to make a name for himself in Irish history led to the interests of the party, and indeed maybe the country, taking a back seat.

    I guess, looking back on recent history in Alliance, it is the near death experience and the departure from the front and centre of old hands – Alderdice, Close, Neeson and so on – that helped to make the subsequent renewal possible. Old hands and old egos tend to make it more difficult for newer, fresher talent to take root. Naomi Long, arguably the party’s single strongest card (as reflected by the PPB) is not an old hand, having joined the party a mere 7-8 years ago (having been encouraged by the fact that the local Alliance rep was the only politician to have any interest in dealing with a local issue over flags). Had Alderdice been around to try to cling onto his East Belfast council and assembly seats, it is not clear that things would have unfolded the way they subsequently did. There is no way that Alderdice would have been able to accomplish the victory against Peter Robinson in 2010.

    That’s not to say that there is the same potential for renewal within the SDLP. The SDLP doesn’t have a lot to separate it from Sinn Fein, apart from the baggage which the electorate on both sides have come to overlook. Alliance to the contrary never had a serious contender in the dead centre. The Women’s Coalition faded as quickly as they sprang up, many of them possessing energy and the desire to do good, but little in the way of the ideological/liberal core that Alliance has developed.

  • Mick Fealty


    We’re coming on to Alliance tomorrow or Thursday (depending how much time I can spare to try and cram yer another profile cruelly into an ill-ftting analogy)…

    Though I did like the logic of Birmingham re the defence not attack thing. But I still think West Ham’s a better fit. Most people who don’t support them kind of like them, which is (sorry Mr C) a bit like the SDLP.

  • Henry94

    I think it’s quite simple for the SDLP. Either go into opposition and dig in for a long fight or take the nice jobs that are going for as long as they last.

    They should ask themselves this. What would Alex Ferguson do? He took on and beat the Old Firm in Scotland then he knocked Liverpool off their famous perch.

    I don’t think the SDLP are up for it. They are not unhappy enough with their lot.

  • Valenciano

    I’m surely the only Valencia fan on here and they’re basically the Alliance party of their respective setup. Their demise was predicted a while ago and while they’re still a way behind the big two they’ve had a pretty good campaign and have done much better than most expected.

    On to the SDLP, is there a way back? I doubt it. The clock is ticking against them. Those catholics whose views of Sinn Fein were tainted by the IRA campaign are getting older and have the alternative temptation of Alliance or in the odd place, the Greens and the new catholics coming on to the voting roll weren’t walking when the ceasefire was declared. The SDLP don’t really have a clue where to go to next and barring a sustained upsurge in violence by the Provos are doomed.

    Incidentally on the missed opportunity thing, the votes in South Down simply weren’t there. In Newry and Armagh there was a rare swing from SF to the SDLP for reasons I can’t fathom and if the SDLP had balanced better they’d have made a gain.

  • Two factors in Newry-Armagh.
    Conor Murphy and the Water Crisis.
    Dominic Bradleys Autism Bill.

  • pippakin

    “As possibly the only genuine West Ham supporter on Slugger….”

    Thames Iron Works to you! Its true that these days I take less interest but then my support for West Ham goes back to Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, to Frank Lampard, Trevor Brooking, (when he wasn’t in cotton wool) Billy Bonds and so on.

    On reflection there is perhaps one comparison to be made between the SDLP and West Ham, imo both were saddled with lousy directors. John Hume took the innovation and inspiration to feed his own ego. The Party has never fully recovered from him.

  • Zig70

    IMO. SF needs the SDLP to get the nationalist vote out that they can’t reach. It is the only viable accelerant to a UI. What I would do is : slap Attwood for attacking SF so much, siding with Tractor Tom, omg. Don’t mention the UI or how green you are etc. Do engineer the odd election pact with SF without making it obvious (lost applications). Side with SF on the schools issue (as should Alliance if they represent both sides) as it is in their manifesto. Be seen to work with SF on issues important to the Ulster Irish, Schools, language, sport etc. Be seen at matches (including Ravenhill), public events etc. Keep the message positive but strong. Attack anything that attacks Irish culture, including the fat boys on the Easter parades but not the skinny ones. Focus on the economy, already done, but get some bloody jobs in. Get some talent in from the private sector. Don’t discuss pacts with southern parties – they don’t really give a hoot and neither do we. Finally I would maybe keep Maggie, she does the party line well, but a bit pants under pressure and turns to frantic attacks, then jokes and jibes, then teeth again. She should chill a bit, take a breath before replying and don’t blame others. Worth repeating, Don’t blame others, reply with what the SDLP will do. There is a place for SDLP as an Irish/Ulster party, representing those who maybe pay attention to the ten commandments, at least in rhetoric. Finally in the spirit of PC, don’t use the term nationalist, correct anyone who does, and label it Ulsterist?? Sounds rubbish but it might stick and don’t mention Catholic, instead Christian.

  • Zig70

    Sorry missed one
    Knock my friggin door and ask for a vote.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Side with SF on the schools issue (as should Alliance if they represent both sides) as it is in their manifesto.

    SF’s problem on education is less about policy (there were plenty who agreed with them) and more about the pig headed/bloody minded attitude they took to it. They had support from the teacher’s unions, for example, and they pissed all that away.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I know it’s a common thing for people to say “that guy never knocked my door during the campaign” but is this really what people vote for ?

    If a candidate does nothing during the whole four years and then knocks doors, does that work ? Likewise if another candidate works his socks off and gets plenty of media attention, but spends less time knocking doors at campaign time, does he lose ? I don’t think it works that way. If the BNP candidate knocked my door it wouldn’t really effect whether or not I’d vote for him.

    Canvassing is primarily a tool for parties to see how the public are responding to your campaign and/or policies. I might be in danger of giving away an Alliance secret here, but it does logically follow that it makes sense to canvass outside of election time.

  • AGlassOfHine

    Nail on the head there pip !! John ( leg end in his own mind ) Hume ran the good ship SDLP right into the sf rocks !! The only surprise is,it is taking so long to finally sink.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Ruairí Ó Brádaigh ran the Sinn Féin ship into the SDLP rocks. 😉

  • Id like to see the SDLP reclaim the word “Republican” and engage with its core and near core vote rather than hob nob with the vol au vent crowd in the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Community Relations “industries”.

    The SDLP were quite keen on all those things before it became lucrative.
    But I think that whatever their agenda is…….Sinn Féin are very energetic about it.
    Whatever the Alliance agenda is …..they are very energetic about it.
    Either they are very altruistic or maybe theres something “in it” for them.
    The SDLP lack the same passion.
    Does this mean they are less altruistic? I doubt that.
    Or does it just mean there is nothing “in it” for them.

  • AGlassOfHine

    Ruairí Ó Brádaigh ran the Sinn Féin ship into the SDLP rocks.

    That would explain the SDLP sinking fast,I guess ????

  • Comrade Stalin

    Id like to see the SDLP reclaim the word “Republican”

    Votes are leaving the SDLP for parties with a softer constitutional line. Did you notice in the council election that the SDLP vote % fell by around double the total SF % increase ?

  • Mick Fealty


    Those are some very good questions.

    I suspect your last is the sharpest (and has echoes in FJH’s earlier comments. When I was putting together the UUP profile, I thought exactly that. Worse even. That some of the guys are just too comfortable where they are to really rock the boat. Do two terms and take the pension.

    If it was still SF or the DUP in the poor place you could be sure they’d be plotting trouble and disruption. Few in the SDLP seem to have an appetite for that.

    One ex member put it to me that apart from being the we’re-not-SF party they are shaping up to become the let’s-write-a-paper-about-it party, relatively happy with their minority status.

    I’m not as sure as you about which way it will go, though it is easy to see the temptation of the pension.

  • Gopher

    “Votes are leaving the SDLP for parties with a softer constitutional line. Did you notice in the council election that the SDLP vote % fell by around double the total SF % increase ?”

    Yup the SDLP cant see it every election defeat you hear the same nonsense that the SDLP need to green up and become more working class. This has become their Stalingrad surrounded, outnumbered and refusing to breakout from that untenable position. The next step is probably to make Margeret Ritchie field marshall in the hope she might……………………….

  • Naughton

    There are some similarities between the decline of the UU and SDLP – outflanked by their more extreme cousins moving into their territory on one side and a growing (but still small) Alliance vote taking up the garden centres. Both also suffer under uninspiring leaders who are terrible on media and both parties had/have a lot of elder statesmen who have long since lost their hunger.

    BUT there may be some hope for SDLP – firstly they have been managing to belatedly bring in some fresh faces at Assembly and Council – don’t estimate the need for fresh keen candidates who are media savvy.

    Secondly despite FJH’s complaints about the South Belfast Mafia, it should be remembered that Labour’s experience was that you can’t win with Michael Foot (M Durkan) or Neil Kinnock (M Richie) looking to move even more to the left, but a balanced business friendly and socially responsible manifesto can keep a core vote and attract new voters. Knockers of the South Belfast Mafia should note that both Alastair and Conall have picked up votes from former UU supporters here (incl my missus) and remain transfer friendly.

    SDLP can’t out green Sinn Fein, and Alliance hasn’t shown evidence yet that they can significantly expand outside greater Belfast.

    I’m afraid Margaret needs to step down, – she’s begun to take the party on to a better track, but isn’t the leader to bring it electoral recovery.

    And in the next Assembly be positive in the Executive (Alex stop whining! )and be aggressive on committees (McDevitt on NI Water set a good precendent).

  • Kadfoomsa

    The SDLP have two choices and I feel they must choose one route, if they dont they will become a rump coalition of individuals.

    1. Become a post-nationalist, lite-Green Alliance type party, like alliance but will a cheiftans cd and a general knowledge of the rules of the GAA. Aline with Fine Gael more than FF.

    Put the notion of a united Ireland of the long back burner, like the Workers Party.

    I think they could settle their vote at 10%.

    They would come under heavy SF attack but could pick up some new support and would have the devotion of the Free State Establishment.

    This option would require the mobilisation of the most ardent anti SF voices in the party.

    Option 2.

    Become an Irish Nationalist Party, clearly putting cause before party and attempting to outclass rather than out green SF.

    Develope a strong line on the questions of a United Ireland and the Irish language and even a joint position with SF, possibly neutralising SF’s advantage in these areas.

    Muzzle the attack dogs.

    Develope an activist base in working class areas motivated by pro-labour policies.

    Is there a third option?

  • Roy Walsh

    I think for the SDLP the results, across two elections, must be a bitter blow, they elected Richie rather than the slightly more capable McDonnell to lead them, I suspect knives will now be out, and I expect her closest lieutenants to be her Brutus’.
    The Sdlp in reality have nothing to offer people here, they are neither social democratic nor socialist, it’s difficult when you live on the Malone Rd. BT9, doing what the DUP and previously SF have done and selecting candidates based on their work-rate within their communities rather than who their mothers were I suspect may allow their return to some support but ’til then I expect further decline.

  • 241934 john brennan

    The outcome of the local Govt elections provides a wee postscript to Sinn Fein’s parading of the tricolour at the St. Patrick’s Day cross-community event in Downpatrick.

    The personal vote for the Sinn Fein Councillor carrying the flag fell by 34%. For the Downpatrick area as a whole, The SF party vote dropped 5%, while the SDLP vote increased by 7%.

    In football terms, Margaret Ritchie is a player/manager in the Martin O’Neill class.

  • Hopefully no current member of the SDLP should be part of this “Slugger” debate. I would urge them to read thee thread without taking part. Pick up the clues from those who wish you well. Ignore the jibes of those who wish your Party ill.
    You already pay far too much attention to those beyond the Partys reach.
    A good start would be NOT to curry favour.

    But let me make it clear that I dont use terms like “South Belfast Mafia”. I am not convinced about “New Labour” of course.
    Indeed if the “South Belfast Mafia” had behaved with the ruthless efficiency of the Sicilian Mafia or even the New Labour Mafia they would be in a better position.
    Next week will see Ritchies exit strategy emerge. Frankly a time for ruthless efficiency.

    Was thinking this morning that nobody joins SDLP because we are really quite content.
    I have all that I want from the public part of life. There is nothing that I feel so strogly about that Id want to knock on peoples doors and urge them to vote for me.
    The SDLP rivals seem to want more. They are hungrier.

  • Roy, as an outsider, I view the SDLP as a broad-church moderate Irish nationalist party ie the UUP’s opposite number on the other side of the constitutional house; socialist and social democrat are just two elements in its complex make-up. Both would appear to be in major need of a make-over.

    They don’t have access to the same financial resources as the other two nationalist parties; they no longer have the ear of London and Dublin; and they both appear to lack that bit of inbuilt ‘attitude’ necessary to go for their respective oppositions’ jugular. It’s not as if there haven’t been sufficient opportunities to stick the knife in and give it a quick flick – while retaining the cheesy smile for an all too gullible MSM. Were you to tell them to ‘calm down dear’ they’d probably become apologetic rather that apoplectic!

  • Mick Fealty

    If I could finesse your line a little. It’s not that those people wish them ill. Like West Ham many people who ‘like the brand don’t actually buy it. So, perhaps, the party is inclined to overservice those people over those who vote for them.

    Also narrative is made up from what you more than what you say. Perhaps positioning has been privileged over action.

    And no one can credibly say, as one very senior Journo did to me, in March that the whole thing depends on two men: Adams; and Robinson.

    You can break some delph and not have the venerable GFA roof cave in.

  • Mr Fealty,
    No I think I meant exactly what I said. I chose my words carefully.
    The debate within SDLP is already raging. And I think it would be foolish for any loyal SDLP member to join the “Slugger” debate and reveal what exactly is going on.
    Likewise those people who have an inkling..or think they do…..and who are SDLP voters, supporters who actually wish them to sort it out would be foolish to over-indulge the debate.
    Except of course to indicate to SDLP members (high and low) following the debate in silence….that many who wish them well can feel let down by the absence of professionalism and absence of real leadership.
    A loyal SDLP member can hardly say Margaret Ritchie is totally useless.
    SDLP voters and supporters can say that.
    In that sense the cause of the SDLP is best served by members silence and supporters getting the message TO SDLP….no point in a message FROM SDLP until they can speak coherently with a unified voice.

    There is of course a genuine “academic” debate to be had in the thread.
    But there is also an opportunity for partisan point scoring and mischief. Another reason why SDLP members should stay away from it.
    SDLP has always shown a readiness to listen….and I make the point that they have done this to their own disadvantage. Certainly handing over practically the entire Conference to many non-members with little or no respect for SDLP values is counter-productive.

  • Kadfoomsa

    I am not an SDLP supporter so I have to be clear about that.

    However, some the politicans i most admire are in the SDLP so its not as if I could not be converted.

    Would never vote for Margaret Ritchie however.

  • otto


    Option 3: A flag of convenience for egotistic catholic nationalists who want to be in politics but to have nothing to do with party discipline.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    The SDLP are dying. Slowly but they are dying.

    Ironically this is partly because they have succeeded in what they set out to do. Kadfoomsa outlined two options for the future earlier – 1) become a ‘lite-green’ party. But where would the votes come from? 2) become more nationalist than SF – bigger potential vote pool here but would the party membership have the heart for it?

    There is a third option – Drop the SD and unite with the Irish Labour Party. The time has long gone when the SDLP needed the ear of all 3 main parties in the Republic. Straight away they have an all Ireland and a bigger 32 county party than SF, Use it well e.g. market themselves as the party of govt in both jurisdictions. There’s also the possibility of attracting members and votes from non-traditional sources with the ‘Labour’ brand.

    I know comparisons would be drawn with the UUP and the Conservatives but I think there could be a different dynamic. It would probably be opposed from the ‘right’ of the party but they could always join FF!

  • Mick Fealty


    My feeling is that that merger story is a red herring and a distraction. Weak as you may think the SDLP is, the southern brands have no real resonance on the ground.

    SF’s competitions in the south are great fun for everyone in NI, unionists and all. But I can’t see how it actually works for the SDLP, at least in the short term when they need to shorten the list of to dos and do what they need (rather than what they’d like) to do, and do it well.

    Besides, If it goes that way it will come out of some brute struggle within the party. Crudely, whomever wins will dictate terms on that score.

    But for now, learn how to win elections first, then consider your longer term ambition when you have some resources to invest. But then the Alliance story comes tomorrow.

  • Zig70

    Once SDLP is strong then maybe talk of links. Currently it looks like the tactic of the lost. Just look at the coverage the election got in the south, hardly made the front page.

  • Roy Walsh

    Nevin, I am somewhat uneasy at your description of the UUP as ‘broad-church moderate’ bear in mind their history which, with the recent election of Tom Elliot seems to be replayed, keep the croppies down and keep the ordinary prod out too but give him a low paid job to make him believe he’s better than his croppie neighbour, I assure you, the prod on the Shankill Rd was not much better off, economically or socially than the people a few hundred yards away.
    The problem for both nationalist and unionist was the parties which appeared to offer them some salvation, SDLP/DUP just as quickly became as right wing as the UUP, neither had a real working class Party to vote for and socialism was never really a starter in Ireland anyway.
    For them both they need to appeal to their core support, one, middle-class nationalists, the other die-hard middle class loyalists or better, merge, as I expect SDLP would be keen enough on maintainence of the union, provided it protects their incomes.

  • Mick Fealty

    Why are we talking about the UUP on an SDLP thread Roy? I’ve red carded Nev in the past for straying way off topic, although to be fair, he only mentioned them in passing this time.

    If we’re all talked out on the subject above, then let’s leave it. Let’s not start on the UUP when the site is already overflowing with threads on the UUP…

  • Zig70

    Don’t think the target audience is light green or liberal. Just run of the mill Ulster catholics. Not worried about UI or any of that nonsense, it’s the economy stupid. That and making sure Irish culture thrives and is respected. I also think the socialist tag should stay, for whatever reason ulster catholics seem to see themselves as socialist nomatter what the reality may be. It’s a more moral stand point than the greedy right.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s also a popular position to adopt in the devolutionary settlement we have…

  • Roy Walsh

    Mick, just making a pertinent point related to what the other contributor said, I’ll keep such out in future, been away a while.

  • Zig70

    The wannabe SDLP concillor in my ward lives near me. I know nothing about him, he could be an idiot. If he doesn’t make himself known in the area then he’ll have to knock on my door to motivate me to vote. The local estate agent knows who I am because it’s good business. He should be able to see I am a potential target just from my name on the electoral roll or any database if he is too scared or can’t be bothered knocking on the whole street. Never saw him at mass, local club, school and none of the neighbours mentioned him as a respectable smart guy. Hence 200 votes.

  • Crubeen

    I wonder if the SDLP shares somewhat of the same problems as the UUP in respect of intense parochialism, cliqism and even nepotism.

    The elections for Antrim Council saw two former members of the SDLP stand as Alliance and Independent candidates. Oran Keenan is a veteran councillor of many years servive on the Council; Donovan McClelland is a former councillor and Assemby member yet both either severed or were severed from the SDLP.

    In the case of Keenan I found the following link: –

    Where Donovan McClelland is concerned; he was of course a sitting member of the Assembly who was displaced by Thomas Burns (South Antrim effectively at that stage being a single SDLP seat). I was told by a reliable source that was some problem, with vote management, of a type not unrelated to that noted in the link above, that might well have contributed to or caused McClelland’s defeat and that there were no internal party disciplinary proceedings as, arguably, there should have been.

    Did the obvious dissension as witnessed by the candidacies of Keenan and McClelland contribute to the loss of the SDLP seat to the DUP of all people?

  • Lionel Hutz


    I wonder whether in circumstances like that whether what your seeing is the natural fallout when you have so many candidates competing for a share of a shrinking vote. The same thing in West Tyrone. They had to pick one candidate and some people are not gonna like it.

  • Mick Fealty

    The two larger parties do get candidate selection wrong. But usually it is generally a miscalculation or a strategy that doesn’t quite work.

    In a party that is building a positive culture, you go with the candidate who has in the past or is most likely in future to pull the largest amount of votes out of any given constituency. Arguments are settled by record and in the case of newer candidates, intelligent profiling.

    And they should be settled relatively easily on that basis. Increased vote totals should follow.

    This is the SDLP’s low hanging fruit, not fanciful ideas about which southern party do they might want to be.

  • Lionel Hutz


    That’s all correct. However, the problem has been that when your party’s vote is squeezed, the task of deciding which candidates pull in the vote becomes more difficult. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the SDLP have lost seats in the geographically larger rural constituencies. Its hard to field one candidate in FST or West Tyrone who can attract votes from across the constituency and a running mate is risky at best. I think that was one of the interesting things about Newry&Armagh. They ran their Newry based candidate in Bradley and an Armagh mayor in O’Hanlon. The increased there vote in both percentage terms and in pure numbers. But N/A is a constituency with well over a quota so there was no risk in them knocking the other out. Should Gallagher have had a dungannon based running mate?

  • Lionel Hutz

    I live in the Moy and vote in the N/A constituency. My mum said to me that O’Hanlon would be getting a vote. She met him and was impressed. I said, yeah well Bradley is good too. She didn’t know who he was, but O’Hanlon got her out to vote and Bradley had second preference- not that he needed it.

    The SDLP need to raise the profile of their councillors and then use them as sweeper running mates. Their core vote will only come out if there is recognition and a sense that some local worker is deserving.

  • Mick Fealty

    The problem in FST for them was two fold. One, backing fearghal last year and, literally, backing down to back an older horse this time out. And Tommy’s home base failed to show.

    Like the UUP in #BELE11, they did not see that coming. A running mate in ST might well have swung it, but someone in the local party needs to know that’s an issue before the count is over and done.

    It also looked as though they didn’t mean what they said last year. You burn credibility when you so visibly back off like that.

    And that’s cash/money deducted from the bank, with the middle classes at least.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Yeah, it looked like a climbdown- although to be fair to them, Fearghal was also very poor. Good candidate on paper, but he’s no Mike Nesbitt.

  • Big Boss

    Lionel Hutz,

    While it is clear that the SDLP should have ran a South Tyrone candidate the question is who should it have been? Not sure running Currie would have been wise (given that he lost the seat this time round) and Quinn was only new.

    I think if they had run McGonnell from Clogher Valley (he topped the poll) it would have won the seat for them but there are plenty of places where the SDLP lost their vote, Dungannon Town most of all! Maybe their two candidates just weren’t up to the challenge?

  • streetlegal

    The SDLP ‘boys’ are already moving to oust ‘Mrs Brown’ as questions about her leadership come to the fore.

  • Sean Og

    Heard that Streetlegal. She will jump or be pushed by November.

  • toker

    The Sdlps fortunes cant be blamed on anyone individual such as Margaret Richie or anyone else.
    It cant be helped by using merging with southern parties just imagine how worse things would have been if they were under the FF banner this election. Labour wouldn’t have been much better they have failed to connect with Ulster ,they have to the best of my knowledge never had a seat in ROI in the history of the state even this years Gilmour gale.
    Comparing SDLP to Alliance is insulting. SDLP are the architects of the GFA.( remember during the 1998 negotiations alliance were coming up with all sorts of silly policies to indulge their egos and trying to make their mark and to show that they were not a useless non entity)
    Alliance were also against the Hume Adams dialogue which undoubtedly laid the path for the Peace process. They were also against the Anglo Irish agreement which included enforcement of Fair employment legislation and to let nationalists fly the tricolours without being arrested and most importantly addressing the unfairness of partition by letting the Irish govt have an input. How can a party who claims they have committed to equality and peace ,be opposed to this. The Anglo Irish Agreement gave nationalists an equal tasked in NI and was a blow to support and drew allot of support away from the IRA.SDLP lead all these initiatives
    While only achievement alliance seemed to get was their members being made heads of quangos and getting into the unelected house of lords.
    Everybody knows SDLP cant out green SF why doesn’t it get back to presenting a radical and logical vision that appeals to peoples senses .I think Mc Devitt had it right that they should appeal on bread and butter issues and what he has said about what effect a united Ireland would have on our most poor and vulnerable.
    This is code for we cant afford a united Ireland(lets be honest we cant ,many sdlp and /sf members must know this in their heart of hearts) it would have a detrimental effect in our quality of life .Imagine how areas of West Belfast , Bogside and other deprived areas would suffer with the with drawl of health, housing and unemployment benefits. Do we really want to join up with a Conservative South this along with many factors such as our massive reliance on British public sector must make us realise .Would we be any better under a total unitary Ireland free of British rule , lets be realistic about it NO! As John Hume and many others have said you ‘Cant eat a flag’
    Should the SDLP an Republicanism not focus on a realistic and challenging vision an’ agreed Ireland’ making stronger links with the south in areas of Environment, Energy and Investment that will tangibly improve our daily lives and economic well. Lets get rid of outdated and infective bodies like Invest NI and Join up with the far more effective IDA and tourism NI (what is the point)
    This could excite and motivate nationalists and progressives who didn’t vote. The united Ireland by 2016 lets be honest to quote what Neil Kinnock once said of the Labour Militant wings goals that they were irrelevant to the real needs of real people’.
    Is the unitary model outdated and really that realistic?? Should the SDLP not lead this vision

  • granni trixie

    Toker: there are so many factual and other inaccuracies about the Alliance Party in your post that I suspect you are on a trolling exercise. But one example is that it was Bob Cooper who first made the case for Fair Employment legislation as did Oliver Napier whilst on SACHR.

    But if you are infact just an SDLP supporter who gets things wrong, then what you say also reveals that part of the problem for the SDLP is in having an inflated sense of ownership of change in NI, which for me is cultural as well as structural. You also imply you are a bad sport – you had a bad election and are mad as hell at another party who this time round had a good one, get over it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wish people would give up on the “merger” notions already. The UCUNF thing should already have put paid to this daft idea. And no, the “dynamic” is not different. The fact is that you can’t bash two parties with radically different backgrounds and grassroots together and expect something to magically pop out that is somehow greater than the some of its parts, especially not across two regions with different senses of identity.


    Comparing SDLP to Alliance is insulting. SDLP are the architects of the GFA.

    No they weren’t. SDLP policy between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s was what they called an “agreed Ireland” with some kind of joint authority in place. During that entire period, corresponding with Hume’s leadership, the SDLP made no efforts whatsoever to try to engage unionists or even try to understand their position. It can’t, of course, be said that the unionists were any better.

    Only a year or two before the ceasefires John Hume pulled the SDLP out of the Brooke talks, making a comment along the lines of “the Northern Ireland state cannot continue to exist in its current form”, which was a clear sign that Hume was in thrall to the massed ranks of the Provos who were busy massaging his ego.

    So on this basis I can’t see how anyone can claim that the GFA, which contained ideas that the SDLP had rejected (such as devolution), and which instated no nationalist-leaning constitutional reforms of the NI state, is some sort of SDLP-architected solution. Hume himself did not attend the negotiations frequently, most of the real work was done by Seamus Mallon, who earned a level of respect from all of the party delegations that Hume never could have.

    I might also add that the SDLP contributions to the way devolution was to be constructed, namely ideas such as cross-community voting and d’Hondt, were designed very specifically to try to protect the position of the two largest parties.

    Alliance were also against the Hume Adams dialogue which undoubtedly laid the path for the Peace process.

    The Hume Adams dialogue was an attempt by Hume to stitch up a side deal with the two governments, ignoring the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. At this stage the SDLP had not formally accepted what was known as the principle of consent; that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position could only be changed with the wishes of the majority of the people who lived within it.

    Given that Alliance has always supported power sharing, and an agreement designed and built within Northern Ireland, encompassing NI politicians, it was fundamental to reject Hume-Adams for this reason.

    It certainly laid the path for the “process” which was one out of several viable alternatives that existed at that time. This particular process was the only one that Hume could style himself an architect of. The Provos clearly approached Hume during the Brooke talks, fearful that a deal could be done which would leave them out in the cold (Mark Durkan was doing substantial negotiation at that time and I’m quite sure a deal was in the making) and persuaded him to back out of it and deal with them instead. Hume couldn’t resist the opportunity to take the title of the man who persuaded the IRA to lay down their arms.

    The fact is that the IRA had decided almost a decade earlier that it was time to lay down the guns, and they had been having talks with the British about trying to find a way by which they could do this. The notion that Hume was the person who persuaded them is not borne out by the facts that we now know.

    The “process” you describe was nothing other than a process to incorporate Sinn Féin into politics here. Hume was, quite simply, a patsy to allow SF to establish credibility and electability beyond the core republican hardline constituency. His role was to add shine to SF’s image, set them up with the Americans, and make them acceptable to the Catholic middle class. The plan certainly worked in that the SDLP’s vote began to hemorrhage significantly in the elections that immediately followed.

    If you want to start with the person most responsible for the present situation the SDLP find themselves in, you have to start with John Hume.

    They were also against the Anglo Irish agreement

    How can anyone justify the Anglo Irish Agreement ? I’m up for good relations and agreement with the Irish government, we can’t deny that there is a special bond linking the two states on this island, but how on earth is having a government that is accountable to nobody in NI a positive thing ?

    It’s an example of how people in the SDLP thought, and still think. They reasoned that the Irish government were tribal fellow travellers and would therefore act in the interests of nationalists, whereas the British were tribal fellow travellers with the unionists who would act in their interests. Both of these assumptions are completely false (ironically the AIA illustrated that the British were very far from unionist supporters) and set back the chances of Agreement.

    The AIA is also an example of the Hume-SDLP undermining the locally-elected government and trying to short-circuit the need to even talk to the unionists. It was a backward step.

    The Anglo Irish Agreement gave nationalists an equal tasked in NI

    Nonsense. It antagonized the unionists and set the path to a political process back by years.

    and was a blow to support and drew allot of support away from the IRA.

    No it didn’t. The IRA did that themselves. Are you giving the SDLP the credit for what the Enniskillen bombing achieved ?

    While only achievement alliance seemed to get was their members being made heads of quangos and getting into the unelected house of lords.

    What, like Lord Fitt ?

    As for the rest of your contribution here, the future of the SDLP is really a matter for members and supporters. The overriding question, of course, has to be : what is the point in having two constitutional nationalist parties ?

  • granni trixie

    CS: You are on the button with your (patient?) analysis.

    I do however see the AIA differently however. Wasn’t it an outcome of the 1983 Forum which reported back in 1984 with its key signinficance being that it recognised, “the totality of relaionships” (between Ireland, NI and Britain). With hindsight I think it is clearer that agreeing to coperate and work together to resolve the conflict was what ultimately worked. The surprizing thing is that Thatcher agreed to it but not surprising that the unionists felt shafted.
    With some justification they saw it as an overnight imposition and they did not have the leadership willing to sell it to them.

  • “what is the point in having two constitutional nationalist parties ?”

    CS, the SDLP fits this description; Sinn Fein IMO still doesn’t.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “The overriding question, of course, has to be : what is the point in having two constitutional nationalist parties ?”

    Because in a democracy people need a choice, and so long as the national issue remains forefront (which it will for at least generation to come ) two parties on each side are needed, the middle ground party cannot fully take their place.

    This also applies to the UUP, but I have more or less taken FJH advice and avoided discussing my own parties challenges on here!

    With regards the SDLP, I genuinely felt sorry for them losing the assembly seat and Dungannon town cllr. seat, and seeing their other council seats become vulnerable, their unwillingness to run multiple candidates when they had a surplus has meant they were unable to hand the baton on to a new generation. Sadly they lot these seats a couple of elections ago and it could prove hard to save what remains.

  • Taibhse-wolf-tone-

    SDLP-Stagnating Developement of Labourers Potential.-
    SWP now favour a corporation tax of 12.5 per cent tax for google.The mind boggles.Horses for courses…Gombeen Socialism or Market Economics.Gombeen Capitalists Beware.Beware the day the poor take power in this country.
    If i got elected i’d Repatriate 100,000 Travellers from England.The second year i’d Repatriate another 100,000 first generation irish builders.The third year well,here’s hoping.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin, stop trolling. SF are a constitutional nationalist party; they’re not trying to use violence to overthrow the state. That’s more than I can say for the actions of some unionist parties in the past.

    The political reality today is that most of the major political parties have, at some point, been distinctly less than constitutional in their approach; it’s time to deal with it and move on.

    Granni, I am light on the detail of what went immediately before the AIA but for me I guess it is a case of whose influence I can see. The AIA, and subsequently the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document, have Hume’s mucky fingerprints all over them and they all show the symptoms of being drawn up in an environment where you had an openly nationalist-leaning Irish government working with a British government who felt frustrated that they could get nowhere with the unionists, all the while Hume was whispering in their ears. Thankfully, most of the really stupid parts of both those documents (do you remember the Framework Document “three wise men” idea ?!?) were excised during the talks process.

    DR, I am not persuaded that the constitutional issue will remain to the forefront. It will simply fade out of relevance, albeit still remaining a bone of contention, perhaps in the same way as the issue of the Treaty still gets FF and FG supporters worked up many generations later despite it not being a campaigning issue.

  • CS, there’s no need to use words like trolling. I’m entitled to form an opinion on the basis of the information that is available. Mitchel McLaughlin MLA on RTE assented to the labelling of the Army Council as the legitimate government of the island of Ireland.

  • Zig70

    “The SDLP are the architects of the GFA”. SDLP need to learn a lesson from Peter Robinson. A week is a long time in politics. The people the SDLP need to convince would ask what is the GFA and who is Hume.and they would fall asleep as you told them. Talk about slow learners. The SDLP should stick to what they can do for us without the dull lectures. Can’t eat a Flag, State benefits is the one area where northerns would be better off in the south. For the rest of us it would make little difference. More pay, more tax, swings and roundabouts. Either way again the people they need to target don’t care either. Stick to the here and now.

  • Drumlins Rock

    CS, lets just say the tribal nature of voting will probably still be around for the next two elections at least, to be blunt Catholics need a choice in the polling booth, as do Protestants, alliance is giving that choice in some areas, but will not achieve the geographical spread or policy spread to provide a counter balance to the big two, even less so now they have so clearly joined the consensus.

    Maybe some day we can merge the three middle parties then split them into centre left and centre right! but that would involved a consensus on the national issue not visible atm.

  • Big Boss

    Drumlins Rock,

    Have to say i disagree about the Dungannon Council seats. I believe there was a decent vote in Dungannon Town, but i believe running the 2 candidates cost them, i think one would have won it. Indeed I think that there is still a seat there for the SDLP, if they can find the right person.

    Both Torrent and Clogher Valley will be safe, its now about finding the right people to take over from Cavanagh and McGonnell (co-option before the next local election is a must)

    I think Blackwater will be under a lot of pressure and while the SDLP hung on against Unionism this time, the battle at the locals will be very interesting.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin, you’re trolling. Stupid comments from SF dunderheads don’t change the fact that SF is by its actions a constitutional party. I suggest you do what the rest of us have done and stop living in the past.

  • CS, you can only speak for yourself. Folks are free to make up their own minds about my interpretations of recent events as expressed here and elsewhere. Please give them that courtesy.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I’m glad to hear that. In that case, if I say right here on Slugger that you like to trap and eat people’s pet dogs and you want to invade Italy and re-establish the Kingdom of Sardinia with yourself as the reigning monarch, you won’t mind.

    After all, my interpretation of recent events as expressed here and elsewhere must be respected.

  • Of course I don’t mind, CS. You’ve given me a good laugh 🙂

  • eddie poole

    Ritchie to face leadership challenge from McGlone and McDonnell.A bit like the three little pigs vying for the brick house to keep them safe from the Shinner wolf..

  • A well balanced (?) view by Mr Poole and hardly a surprise to anyone who has watched the SDLP over past few months or even blogged with this hope or expectation as many have done on this very mesaageboard.
    The optimism of the Spring “great reception on the doorsteps” gave way to a pessimism which I observed close up when the ballot papers tumbled out of the boxes and had not even been counted.
    No SDLP person expected to do well BECAUSE of Margaret Ritchie. They thought they might do well IN SPITE OF Margaret Ritchie.
    Thus the optimism quickly changed to how Margaret Ritchie was an issue on the doorsteps.

    All is not lost. The fact that SDLP came seventh in I think seven constituencies is a “plus” and the SDLPs obsession with being liked means that there are preferences available to them.
    The big problem is that they dont do Republicanism as well as Sinn Féin or lets get alongerism as well as another rival.
    And that belt of seats, East Antrim, South Antrim, Lagan Valley, Strangford and North Down effectively provides a barrier between East and West.
    As evidenced by the stumbling cringe-worthy reply to the “double jobbing” question, Margaret Ritchie is a very over-promoted politician.
    The Party is debt ridden.
    And some staffers will be laid off. This is in addition to the loss of seats and closure of offices.
    Yet ironically it is double jobbing which will provide Margaret Ritchie with an honourable exit.
    There are just 15 SDLP politicians ..14 MLAs and mark Durkan.
    Ritchie can opt for Westminster and this can bring in another sixteenth SDLP politician, not necessarily a South Down native. It would also thwart any challenge by McDonnell.
    Patsy McGlone as Ive said before is a man who can unite the SDLP and marginalise the Islington-Lisburn “New SDLP” faction who have been allowed to dictate the pace of “outreach”.
    Patsy McGlone will primarily listen to SDLP voices. A novel approach.
    A word about this “as early as next month” line that the BBC is taking.
    That has to be the case.
    I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at last weeks SDLP Executive meeting.
    But as I understand it nominations have to be received in mid August for a November Election.
    Therefore as specualted often on Slugger, this is the only choreography available.