Et tu, Conall?

The beleaguered leader of the SDLP, Margaret Ritchie, could be forgiven for feeling somewhat betrayed as the summer coup launched by Deputy Patsy McGlone further exposes her tenuous grip on power within the troubled minor party of northern nationalism.

The Irish News (yesterday) has tried and failed to identify any show of support for the leader from within the party’s Assembly team, with the solitary exception of the West Belfast MLA and party’s only Minister, Alex Attwood.

Most intriguingly, as noted by the Irish News today, the failure of the South Belfast MLA, Conall McDevitt, long regarded as a close adviser to Ritchie, to provide unequivocal support for the party leader is an ominous development.

On The Nolan Show yesterday, McDevitt refused to provide a clear statement of support for the party leader in spite of repeated probing on the matter by the host, Stephen Nolan. Whilst he did eventually state that he would be “very happy for Margaret Ritchie to remain as leader of the SDLP,” his less than forthright support will doubtlessly be a disappointment to the leader. As the Irish News notes today:

“He [McDevitt] was one of the key drivers behind Ms Ritchie’s successful 2010 leadership battle with South Belfast assembly member Alasdair McDonnell.

Mr McDevitt was understood to be behind most of her policy documents and gave her communications advice at the time.”

Meanwhile, Alex Attwood has launched a thinly veiled attack on Patsy McGlone’s leadership bid, stating that those who were less of an electoral asset should think twice before putting their names forward. Attwood was pointing out the fact that Ritchie has retained the SDLP’s advantage over Sinn Fein in South Down whilst, in McGlone’s home turf of Mid-Ulster, Sinn Fein hold a 3:1 assembly advantage over the SDLP.

Former SDLP strategist, Tom Kelly, noted in his Irish News column on Monday that “[Margaret Ritchie’s] gravest mistake was not being careful enough about the Praetorian Guard that was moving around her- people whose sole political purpose appeared to be more about stopping the rising star of the then SDLP deputy leader, Alasdair McDonnell, than the future prospects of their party.”

Kelly concludes with this hard-hitting observation:

“Ms Ritchie lives and breathes politics but her fair weather friends may be about to offer her up for the second time. Nice bunch, eh?”

  • Alias

    If the Irish News is correct then McDevitt should share in Ritchie’s failure since he engineered it, and should duly stay perched on her coattails as she exits stage left.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Atwood’s argument here is very weak. The SDLP does not (or at least, isn’t supposed to) exist to protect Margaret Ritchie’s position in South Down.

    That Mr McGlone has not only kept his seat in Mid Ulster, but preserved a rock-solid, safe SDLP seat there, where he goes head-to-head with Sinn Fein’s strongest electoral asset, is not to be sneezed at.

    It certainly isn’t to be sneezed at by the man who has single-handedly destroyed the SDLP in West Belfast – a constituency where, after all, both his predecessors as party standard-bearers won Westminster elections. After a decade of Atwood at the helm in WB, the SDLP’s name in the constituency is dirt.

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    Although it shouldn’t matter, over the years I have noticed that political parties led by women, don’t (largely) fare very well at the polls. (Yes, I have heard about Indira Ghandi and Maggie thatcher).
    I wonder why that is. Could it be that most men, and some women, have a latent belief that women are inferior? Not that many men would say it, especially when going upstairs to the marital bed lest it become a martial one.

  • wild turkey

    “Could it be that most men, and some women, have a latent belief that women are inferior?”

    Charlie. I’ll try to answer your question with two questions

    President Palin?
    President Bachman?

    of course there is Hilary Rodman Clinton, a formidble politician, who might have made a competent president.

    …. and then to matters more local, once upon a time, there was a womens coalition.

  • iluvni

    I heard McDevitt on saying he brought his young family to the Pride parade to teach them to respect diversity and other cultures, as that was important.
    Did he take them to the 12fth parade?

  • He didnt have to take them to the Twelfth Parade.
    It was close by his house.
    A play area used by local children was an al fresco urinal for the Marchers.

  • Joe Bloggs

    iluvni (profile)
    3 August 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I heard McDevitt on saying he brought his young family to the Pride parade to teach them to respect diversity and other cultures, as that was important.
    Did he take them to the 12fth parade?

    – – – – – – – –

    Conall is much too busy hiding in bushes with a pen and paper watching grown men urinate on the 12th.

  • Looks like youve opened up a “Second Front” Mr Donnelly 😉
    As has been ponted out above, Mr Attwood is not best placed to compare SDLP performance against SF in South Down (2:2) with SDLP performance in Mid Ulster (1:3)……..if thats a poor reflection on Patsy McGlone can we make an even more adverse judgement on Alex Attwood (1:5).
    Career wise Mr Attwood (52)..his goose is cooked.
    But to use another culinary expression
    Mr McDevitt (38) can still save his bacon.

    Apologies to Tom Kelly for unwittingly using the same Praetorian Guard phrase which he has used to describe those around Ms Ritchie.
    But outside Attwood (who owes his job to Ms Ritchie), nobody elected to a Party position is rushing to her defence. Shades of the last days of Thatcher.
    Attwood backing Ritchie…….well I suppose that could save his job if the SDLP seeks to heal wounds after the Election.
    Opposition might provide a job for Attwoods Special Advisor, also a Ritchie fan as presumably Money would be provided.
    The Party does need funds. Its alleged Donations are not coming into the Party.
    The likelihood is that Attwood will stand down in 2015. He can go down with Margarets Ship but he will never be Party Leader.
    McDevitt is seemingly semi deatched from the Inner Circle. Defeat could marginalise him, unless McGlone needs to heal the wounds.
    But frankly the near silence of Ritchies supporters is helpful to the healing process.
    It may not be painless.
    But it might be bloodless.

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    wild turkey,

    I guess you missed my use of the word “largely” and my two significant counter examples.
    I don’t know the truth of my observation. It was no more than a general experience of mine and may not hold elsewhere.
    You mentioned that there was once a women’s coalition. Where are they now?

  • Hopping The Border

    iluvni –

    Let me get this straight, you want to know if McDevitt took his kids to a parade celebrating the supremacy of another religion over their own?

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    Hopping The Border,

    Odder things have happened. Some people just like a parade though not offensive songs, of course.

  • 6crealist

    Are you Ian Parsley in disguise?

  • Chris Donnelly

    I’ve opened so many fronts in the past few years I don’t know which way is which!

    I agree with you about Conall.

    As Patsy said in a fairly competent Talkback interview with Wendy Austin earlier this week: Politics ‘is what it is.’

    Conall has to look to the future, and that certainly isn’t an option for Alex Attwood, hence the latter’s robust defence of Margaret because her survival represents his only opportunity to retain his Ministerial post and position of influence at the highest echelons of the party.

    This emerging Machiavellian streak to the McGlone faction could actually be interpreted as a sign that there is life in the party yet……

  • Charminator

    I would imagine McGlone’s going to find it very difficult to bring McDevitt in as Deputy Leader… especially if he’s serious about the sort of radical restructuring the SDLP needs. I imagine McGlone – with his emphasis on the SDLP’s role in “Ireland” – will be looking South and likely not towards Labour, as McDevitt would, like Mags and Attwood, surely prefer.

    If he’s looking towards FG or FF, then he will be preparing for moving the SDLP into post-GFA Irish politics with a thud. If he truly has a radical plan for rejuvenating the party’s principles (rather than the mere SDLP label or ‘shell’ which houses these principles), then there will inevitably be some political refugees as a result.

    McGlone could integrate the SDLP into all-Ireland politics in a serious way. But it will take massive foresight and some serious liathróidí. Only time will tell. But with SF increasingly using it’s Southern base to maximise it’s all-island credentials in the North – and of course offering the possibility of in the near future influencing Irish politics in a very serious way, even the SDLP’s traditional strength of having a hotline to whoever was Taoiseach is today of little relevance.

    A decade of “blue skies” thinking on the part of the SDLP has led them to where they are today and only radical fresh thinking will lead them to some modicum of recovery. Despite his youth, I’m not at all sure if McDevitt is the face of the SDLP of the future or perhaps a reminder of its long and lingering decline, especially if, as has been widely commented, he is/was(?) a “favourite” of Mags and was in the core of party thinking long before ever being an MLA.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Is McDevitt the SDLPs Mandelson? major influence behind the scenes, the king maker but never the king.

  • Hopping The Border


    From my own point of view, I think that unlikely for anyone who understands what the parade celebrates/commemorates.

    However, i can see the appeal of all the bright colours to some…

  • 6crealist


    no, he isn’t.

    He’s more popular outside of his party than inside.

  • Drumlins Rock

    6c, does that popularity go beyond the media?

    ack I’m being cruel, sorry Conal if your reading this 🙂

    He has an important role to play in the party, but I doubt it will ever be the top role, I don’t thing the Nolan interview was scheming, but he was certainly keeping his options open, could be smart enough at the end of it all. As for Alex… less said the better.

  • lamhdearg

    i would like to see conal in alliance party.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    “Did he take them to the 12fth parade?”

    Didn’t you hear what he said? He said he wanted to teach his children the importance of respecting diversity and different cultures.

    Bringing them to a supremacist march would teach them the very opposite.

  • Drumlins Rock, Ive been saying that McDevitt is perceived as a Mandelson-like figure since the Cat was the Kitten. Pay attention! 😉

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    Billy Pilgrim,

    The odd thing is that if you want to condemn an Orange parade, and I understand why many would wish to do so, you have to attend at least one to have a valid criticism.

  • All Nationalists look “South”.
    Not all Southerners look “North”
    There are elements in FG which is not unduly sympathetic. The West Britons (who of course are not the only component part of FG) certainly have a lot in common with unionists.
    The internationalists (not of course the only component part) within Labour are not enthusiastic about the North either.

    Indeed to paraphrase Joane Tuffy TD (at SDLP Conference!!!!) when asked about Irish Unity
    “Ive never really thought about it……but Conall McDevitt used to live near me”.

    Yes…..with friends like that.
    So its natural that FF and obviously SF are the most enthusaistic “nationalists”.

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    “Nationalism” is a fairly loose concept. People who would have no intention nor reason to “look South” may just accept the label to distinguish themselves from themmuns.

  • Alias

    Got it in one, Chairlie.

  • USA

    Conal McDevitt has always impressed me. Atriculate, youthful, good ideas, objective with a quiet confident and non-confrontational nationalist outlook.

    But it is too early in his career to be leading the party. Don’t underestimate him however, his day will surely come, just not yet. Deputy leader….maybe.

  • Let’s not underestimate Alex. Perhaps he’ll finally take the Planning Service by the scruff of the neck – and put manners on developers!

  • AntrimObserver

    USA wrote,

    “Conal McDevitt has always impressed me. Atriculate, youthful, good ideas, objective with a quiet confident and non-confrontational nationalist outlook.”


    Are you for real?

    He’s articulate alright – articulate in the same way a snake-oil salesman can turn a phrase. The bloke is all surface no substance. He’s everything that is wrong with the SDLP right now – a party seemingly devoid of people with any vision, except perhaps for the next step in their careers.

    Didn’t you hear McDevitt on the radio the other morning, slipping and sliding like a slippery eel as if his vast quantities of hair gel had finally engulfed him completely? It was a joke of a performance. It wasn’t clever, it wasn’t skilful; it was just sad.

    And as for his ‘non-confrontational nationalist outlook’, that’s just another failing. In fact, when was the last time McDevitt came out with any resembling a nationalist opinion? Well?

    Patsy McGlone has sensed the mood. He was in one of the local Tyrone papers recently condemning the way the PSNI raided the house in Coalisland last week. Can we expect to see McDevitt have such balls? I doubt it.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    As a Nationalist I certainely don’t ‘Look South’.

    My nationality does not come from Dublin!

  • Trapattoni

    Antrim Observer Wrote

    Are you for real?

    He’s articulate alright – articulate in the same way a snake-oil salesman can turn a phrase. The bloke is all surface no substance. He’s everything that is wrong with the SDLP right now – a party seemingly devoid of people with any vision, except perhaps for the next step in their careers.

    Didn’t you hear McDevitt on the radio the other morning, slipping and sliding like a slippery eel as if his vast quantities of hair gel had finally engulfed him completely? It was a joke of a performance. It wasn’t clever, it wasn’t skilful; it was just sad.

    And as for his ‘non-confrontational nationalist outlook’, that’s just another failing. In fact, when was the last time McDevitt came out with any resembling a nationalist opinion? Well?

    Patsy McGlone has sensed the mood. He was in one of the local Tyrone papers recently condemning the way the PSNI raided the house in Coalisland last week. Can we expect to see McDevitt have such balls? I doubt it.

    Absolutely spot on and I did hear Talk Back.

  • Trapattoni

    Or Nolan even

  • AntrimObserver

    Incredible though it may seem, Attwood has gravitas in comparison to McDevitt.

  • AntrimObserver

    LD wrote,

    “i would like to see conal in alliance party.”

    Actually, he would do well there. he fits the profile of a politician Catholic Unionists would vote for.

  • Charminator

    fitzjameshorse – All “Nationalists” certainly do not look South (or more appropriately, think all-island). If I recall correctly, Cllr. Peter Craig chastised a Dublin-born member of the Council last year, telling him he should go back to the South or should leave affairs to locals (or some such partitionist turn of phrase).

    Lord Fitt certainly did not “look South”. And Thomas Burns, whilst surveying the landscape of Helmand, certainly did not look South either. It’s a trite and easy comment to make – that it’s given that all “Nationalists” look South or perhaps more appropriately think “all-island” – but it isn’t always the case in reality.

    For many in the SDLP, when they hear Labour, they think “British Labour” some even always say “Irish Labour” as if to suggest that the usual Labour in their way of thinking is the British version: it is simply their default mode of thinking. Unfortunately, for this lot, Patsy McGlone has his work cut out: they’re a far far cry from the vocab-conscious Seamus Mallon. Similarly, I’ve heard Attwood on numerous occasions discuss the North with reference to “other parts of the UK”, as though this was the sort of phrase his average voter in West Belfast would delight in. All very well some may think, but it reveals a certain mindset that I would suggest is not in keeping with prevailing sentiments in most Nationalist/Republican communities across many constituencies. This mindset continues to undermine the party’s credentials on the National question.

    Finally, that the SDLP invited Joane Tuffy TD to their conference, someone who it seems hasn’t a notion about Irish unity, says as much about the SDLP as it does about Joanne Tuffy!! There are plenty of solid Irish Republicans – from all shades – in the Dail whom the SDLP could have invited, but instead perhaps it was a sense of “Team Labour” that was being promoted. Yet another example, in my view, of the party’s confused political compass. They invite a Labour clown to a circus, and then criticise the clown, not the circus.

  • AntrimObserver

    McGlone’s not wasting any time. In the Tyrone Times yesterday he had a go at the PSNI for the way they carried out the house raids in Coalisland! When was the last time a snivelling STOOP had the cajones to do that?

    I’m sure McGlone’s comments enraged Ritchie. That sort of stuff wouldn’t go down well with all the Catholic Unionists in County Down.

    But I think McGlone’s left it too late. Noone in Tyrone will be fooled by his sudden interest in PSNI harrassment etc.

    But now that he’s said it, he cannot retract from such a stance in the future. If he loses the leadership bid does he revert t staying schtum whenever the cops do something similar? He’ll just look stupid. But will Margaret allow him to stay in the party if he continues to attack the PSNI?

    I see a juicy split ahead.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    “…if you want to condemn an Orange parade … you have to attend at least one to have a valid criticism.”

    In that case, I qualify.

    The atmosphere at urban marches is much more heady and frightening than rural marches. It’s also palpably uglier when you cross the Bann in an eastwards direction.

    I count among my acquaintance plenty of rural Orangemen. They are, to a man, decent, quiet, neighbourly folk. At the same time, their attitudes are unabashedly supremacist.

    And it goes without saying that the organisation to which they belong is a supremacist organisation.

  • Langdale

    A few weeks ago McDevitt was on the Politics Show with Stephen Walker and said—-and this is an exact quote—“I can argue the logic of any position.”

    And that sums up McDevitt for me. He is the Basil McCrea of the SDLP. There isn’t a principle, person or position he won’t ditch in the name of his own career.


  • AntrimObserver

    Langdale, spot on.

    He makes me heave.

    If McDevitt actually had a firm stance that I could argue with I would respect him. I would probably disagree, but I’d at least respect him for stating his case. No, he’s a total joke.

  • AntrimObserver

    …and apart from his complete absence of a policy position, he looks like an extra from The Lord of the Rings.

    If McDevitt’s the ‘future’ of the SDLP then the Shinners can sleep soundly.

  • Langdale

    I don’t think McDevitt will ever lead the SDLP; and for the same reasons that McCrea won’t lead the UUP.

    Both are ‘liked’ by the media, but that’s because they are always available and always willing to say something. But ask journalists what they really think of them and you will very quickly discover that the opinions are far from comlimentary.

    Both lack political courage and both have a record of backing away from previous positions if it seems to be an ‘unpopular’ one inside their party.

    Yet oddly enough the rise of both men inside their parties actually sums up the real scale of the problems facing the UUP and SDLP.


  • I dont know anything about the Coalisland “raid”.
    But two possibilities.
    That Patsy McGlone is just condemning PSNI for the heck of it (to look as green in part of his constituency as Sinn Féin).
    On the other hand, its possible that the PSNI might have been heavy handed in their approach in Coalisland and any responsible politician would have to say so. (unless we go back to the bad old days where criticising the old discredited RUC was considered something no right thinking person would do)..

    The PSNI are after all investigating the brutal murder of one of their own.
    Ah but so did the discredited RUC…..300 times. Well of course thats true but the difference is that the people of County Tyrone and all its elected politicians showed great support for the victims family and are looking forward to the capture and imprisonment of those killers as any unionist pre 1994.
    Rightly or wrongly…..the vast majority of nationalists in Tyrone in the 1970s and 1980s did not regard the RUC as “our own”.
    Anything that would jeopardise relations between nationalists (or indeed unionists) and PSNI is not exactly good….especially if people in the evil dissident community find an excuse to portray the PSNI as merely a re-incarnation of the RUC.

    Of course they are no such thing. But vigilance of any police service is a must in a democratic society….whether its Coalisland, Ballyclare, Ardoyne, Garvaghy or Newtownards Road.
    Support should include Vigilance.
    Vigilance should include Support.

    Frankly Coalisland should be less of an issue than the “Release Brian Lillis” Campaign. Which seems to have a certain amount of SF and SDLP support.
    I have not read any threads about him because I couldnt care less about him. I have no idea who or what he is. Im just not interested enough.
    I just find increased references to him, including from SDLP MLAs….interesting.
    I can fully understand the whole vigilance thing with PSNI but not this latest “Free Whoever” thing.

  • I dont know how many journalists that Langdale has spoken to about Conall McDevitt.
    Or how many he has spoken to about Basil McCrea.
    Or both.
    Or how many Journalists that he has spoken to about anything at all.
    Or how many he actually knows.

    Just how much confidence should we have in what he says.?

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk


    As AntrimObserver said “spot on”.

    As a former SDLP supporter (when they had people of the calibre of Hume. Mallon, Rodgers and Feeney representing them) I am sorry to see what they have become.

    However, the current crop of “leadership” material are absolutely sickening.

    Ritchie is simply laughable (her embarassing appearences on TV prior to the election campaigns alone should signal the end for her). As for Attwood, McDonnell and McDevitt – all ego and a total! absence of substance sums them all up. In fact, Ritchie only got elected as an anyone but McDonnell candidate – he’s largely hated even in the party as arrogant and a hypocrite (see taking the Deputy mayorship in Belfast when Unionists were treating Catholics like sh!t) for details.

    I truly believe that there should be an alternative to SF within nationalism. I hope that there will be a resurgence of the SDLP. Frankly, however there is a lot of work to be done and whether or not the SDLP can do it, I don’t know.

    I’m not a massive fan of McGlone – however, unlike Durkan, Ritchie, Attwood, McDonnell and McDevitt – he certainly doesn’t appear to put his own ego and career ambitions above the people he purports to represent.

    I hope he wins, I also hope he kicks Attwood out of Stormont and gets either Alban McGuinness (preferably) or Dolores Kelly as deputy. McDevitt could have a strong future but he’d have to be prepared to stand up for his beliefs and. based on his performance to date, they seem to change to suit whoever he’s talking to.

    I can’t imagine Ritchie, McDonnell or Durkan having the decency to step down from their (infrequent) attendances at Westminster and associated pay packets.

    However, if the SDLP is to have a future, and I hope it does – the first step is to get rid of the current “leadership” – after that, it’s up to the new folks.

    If they stay with the current losers, they will simply be gradually fading into oblivion.

  • AntrimObserver

    The SDLP needs to split before it will ever return as a political force in N. Ireland.

    For a start, the South Down Castle Catholics need to be jettisoned. Like the eccentric ‘unionists’ of North Down, this shower in the Mournes have the political spine of an earthworm. Remember Eddie McGrady? yeah, a great wee man for getting the potholes fixed, but ask him to take a stance on a constitutional issue – silence. Nah, it’s all too cosy in the golf clubs of South Down. One wouldn’t want to upset Ruth/Trevor/Heather/Derek before Friday night’s 9 holes.

    Ritchie seems to think holding on to South Down will save the SDLP. She seems toto think winning against Ruane there was an achievement. No, it wasn’t. South Down will always have that certain number of Castle Catholics (the retired barristers/dentists etc) to ensure a vote for ‘that nice lady’ who dosen’t rock the boat. A monkey with an SDLP rosette would get elected there.

    But if the leader of the party comes from a constituency where radical policy is eschewed then the SDLP cannot regain clout in areas where radical policy is urgently required – e.g. Tyrone. That’s why we now have McGlone breaking away and attacking the PSNI over house raids. Can you imagine Ritchie making such comments?

    If McGlone, O’Loan, Feeney et al where to set up a new, more agressively nationalist party they would get my vote. Certainly, they’d get my 2nd preferences. At the moment, I do not transfer to the SDLP at all. As a nationalist I cannot give support to a party whose leader is so happy to wear a poppy.

  • AntrimObserver

    Monk wrote,

    “I hope he wins, I also hope he kicks Attwood out of Stormont and gets either Alban McGuinness (preferably) or Dolores Kelly as deputy.”

    Are you for real?! Alban McGuinness – Mr Chumly-Warner himself!

    McGuinness represents everything that is wrong with the SDLP – tired, old, plodding, too nice, jaded, non-confrontational.

    McGuinness is finished.

    He continues to stand in North belfast in the full knowledge that by doing so he ensure Nigel Dodds will get elected as the area’s MP. Anything but Gerry Kelly, eh?

    Back to the Bar Library with that doddery old duffer. He’s political history for goodness sake!

    I’ll agree with you re Dolores Kelly, though. She’s got more balls than most of the current male leaders in the SDLP.

  • Neil

    As a nationalist I cannot give support to a party whose leader is so happy to wear a poppy.

    And attempt to hand a seat to Rodney Conor in F&ST. Can any SDLP voter look back at that and say there was some benefit for the SDLP? I think not personally. NI wide I’d say they lost quite a few potential votes and preferences.

    I said it early on, Ritchie seemed to have an impulse control problem. One example being her ignoring legal advice and removing funding from Loyalists. Popular for a short while, until it became clear she’d overstepped the mark and had to reverse her position.

    At any rate, what are the chances of enough people throwing their hat in the ring for Ritchie to win? Wouldn’t that be the death knell?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Agreed on Alban. He seems like a decent fellow, but he’s also the personification of what’s wrong with the SDLP’s upper echelons – too establishment, with too much to lose by challenging the powerful and privileged in this society. He’s too (as David Trimble would have put it) ‘house-trained’.

    The result of this is that, in his electoral career, Alban has halved the SDLP vote in North Belfast.

    Meanwhile, in a parallel universe: Brian Feeney and Pat Convery are both SDLP MLAs for North Belfast; Gerry Kelly stands aside, allowing Martin Morgan to unseat Nigel Dodds at Westminster; and the Right Hon. Sir Alban Maginness in Lord Chief Justice.

  • I know that I have criticised the SDLP for listening to too many voices outside the Party and people who dont vote SDLP. But I think that “Antrim Observer” is being optimistic if he thinks the SDLP will accept his considered advice that they should “split up”.
    And if they do…..and if Patsy McGlone sets up a new nationalist party…they might get “Antrim Observers” second preference.
    An invite to SDLP Conference surely awaits him, He can get to berate them in public.
    Great Stuff.

    I tend to agree with Neil. I voted SDLP in spite of Margaret Ritchies poppy because I knew that it was “outreach too far”. She spoke at the SDLP Conference in November when the only poppy wearer was a journalist. I cant imagine she will be entering the hall in November wearing one. Nor will her supporters. They arent crazy.
    Fermanagh-South Tyrone, I consider they were right to stand there. I think they have a right to present themselves to every electorate. Sinn Féin should have stood in South Belfast.
    Did it cost some votes. Perhaps a few but a Party needs to maintain visibility which SDLP manifestly failed to do in the 1970s. Thats the seed of he FST problem.
    By any reasonable guide there wasa SDLP quota available there and probably still is….and I think more SDLP people in FST regard Ritchies leadership as a bigger problem than standing in 2010.
    As I undestand it the first calls for a Leadership Election to reach SDLP HQ were from FST…and the issue was not the 2010 Election.

  • Langdale


    “Just how much confidence should we have in what he says?”

    As much or as little as you choose to have. Either you believe that I have talked to journalists and am accurately reflecting their views, or you don’t believe it. It really is that simple.

    But if you are inclined not to have confidence in what I say, or not to believe it, then just skip along to the next post.


  • Alban is 60ish and will probably not wish to run a full term. Pat Convery to be co-opted? My money would be on the excellent Nichola Mallon although that very much depends on who attends the Selection Conference in two years time.
    Alban certainly has a “patrician air” but Mr Chumley Warner jibes are really below the belt. He is a person of great personal integrity and bravery and unlike many who make a career in the Law or whatever has been a champion of the rights of the under priveleged.

  • Oh I think I have a right to point up that your information is un-sourced and am entitled to let others judge…..dont you?

  • Billy Pilgrim


    I don’t dispute any of that. But his electoral career has not been successful, and that’s a pretty serious flaw in any politician. Yes, he still has his Assembly seat, but he’s now the only SDLP member for North Belfast. He has presided over the halving of the party’s vote, during a period in which the overall nationalist vote has increased significantly. And of course, he has lost every Westminster and European election he has contested, badly.

    He is also part of the reason the SDLP lost both Feeney and Morgan – both of whom are exactly the kind of people the party desperately needs, if it’s ever to come back.

    I would suggest that the ‘patrician air’ you refer to is the reason for both his veneration within the SDLP, a party in which an acutely class-conscious middle class predominates. But it cuts no ice with the voters of North Belfast.

  • Certainly a fair point in respect of Brian Feeney.

    I dont know that he is “venerated” (I dont like these loaded words) but he has never struck me as the kinda person who would encourage anyone to venerate him.

  • Langdale


    “Oh I think I have a right to point up that your information is un-sourced and am entitled to let others judge…..dont you?”

    Absolutely: because, obviously, no one else reading my posts could reach the same conclusion without you having to point it out to them.

    And I’m not sure how Slugger would survive if every contribution had to be sourced and attributable. Heavens, some of the journalists would either have to abandon their anonymity or just stop posting!


  • Indeed ….you should maybe take your own advice and skip my posts. Or comment.
    Either seems a reasonable course.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Okay, I’ll rephrase.

    Alban Maginness enjoys a seniority in the SDLP that cannot be explained by his electoral performance. Nor can it be explained by his popular support within the party – he seems to be a well-liked fellow, but one can’t say he has anything like an independent power base within the party.

    So I would suggest that he owes his seniority to the preferment bestowed upon him by successive SDLP leaders, who have been very impressed with him on a personal level – not hard to understand, he’s an impressive individual, what with that ‘patrician air’ you refer to.

    My point is that there is a large degree of class cringe going on here. Alban has been promoted to seniority because successive leaders see him as one of the better sort.

    I have no doubt that, for example, Margaret Ritchie thinks it’d be a great thing if she had fifty Alban Maginnesses. I hope Patsy McGlone recognises that the one he has is a luxury.

    (I’m sorry if this is all very personal: Alban seems like a nice man. I’m just trying to explain why he is the wrong sort of politician for the SDLP right here, right now.)

  • Langdale


    Happy to skip your posts.

    But would just point out that you chose to ‘have a go’ first.


    PS: “I have no doubt that, for example, Margaret Ritchie thinks it’d be a great thing if she had fifty Alban Maginnesses.”

    Perhaps you would like to ask Billy Pilgrim his ‘source’ for being able to claim he has no doubts about what ‘Margaret Ritchie thinks.’

  • Oh I totally accept youre sincerity on this and like myself perhaps struggling to find the right words.
    From my perspective youve got him wrong.
    I first met him thirty eight years ago. Christ that sounds bad.
    And our paths have rarely crossed since.
    But despite the fact that Im a complete Nobody, he has always acknowledged me. Not something that people I actually knew better have done too often.
    Hes a decent guy. And the respect he gets is nothing to do with perceived class issues…..its just a recognition that hes a decent guy
    And Politics needs more decent guys, not fewer.

  • Im always happy to skip the posts I choose to skip.
    But youre oddly asking me to skip posts and asking me a question.
    So Billy Pilgrim is entitled to have no doubt based on his own observations of Alban, Ritchie and SDLP Politics in general.
    He is not seeking to justify his observations by unattributable references to other people, to give his posts an air of being on the inside of things.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Everyone is their own political editor in Norn Iron. With inside sources and everything.

    I agree with you FJH on the source of Conal’s problem. He became so ubiquitous quicker than any politician I have ever come across. Familiarity breeds contempt and in politics, being on air to give an earnestly held view on so many issues can give the impression of having no deeply held views at all. You can contrast that with Dominic Bradley, who chose an issue, fearlessly promoted that issue, and now credited with achieving a great deal for autism patients.

    I would find it heartening to know that Conall agrees that he does too much. But he has much to offer the party and much of the Criticism directed towards him is just vacuous. Oh and on criticising the police, he didn’t pull his punches after the short strand siege.

  • I think its fair to say that the SDLP have some excellent backbenchers including the afore-mentioned Dominic Bradley (autism) and Pat Ramsey (disability).
    My impression is that there are SDLP stalwarts who had reservations about the whole “outreach agenda” and that there was an element that might have against their better judgement wanted to give than nonsense at least a chance…..possibly because they were assured it might actually work.
    It didnt.
    There might be a debate to be had as to whether the “listening” had gone to far outside the Party…….or whether it was a good idea in itself but had the wrong leader.
    The sensible thing to do is to take a step back and put some faith in people like Dominic Bradley, Pat Ramsey, John Dallat, Dolores Kelly. I have no idea whether any have publicly endorsed Patsy McGlone (although Dolores Kelly is reportedly backing him) but it seems to me they are very similar people to Patsy McGlone himself and may believe that the time has come to take the Party back from the control of a perceived “inner circle” which includes Conall McDevitt.

    Now that cant be done without changing Leader alone but my Policy Direction and a supportive SDLP Executive Committee, which means we might see some familiar names being nominated.
    Inevitably this will mean Conall McDevitt will have to swallow some pride and become as equally enthused about Patsy McGlones SDLP as he was about Margaret Ritchies.
    And in terms of his own political career that seems to make sense.

    There will be a lot of pain for SDLP individuals over next few months, not least those close to Margaret Ritchie but the comparative silence of senior SDLP figures speaks volumes that this wll be a bloodless coup and that Ms Ritchie will be prevailed upon to recognise the obvious.
    Silence also means that SDLP can quickly recover from the debacle of her Leadership and the divisive nature of an Election for Leader…if indeed there is one.

  • Lionel Hutz

    That’s an optimistic view. The silence is defeaning.

    There will have to be some blood-letting. But this whole thing has the whiff of being stage-managed. I cannot imagine that Patsy McGlone would have put himself forward without sure backing from senior members of the party, including McDonnell. But he was flanked by no-one. No senior support as yet. Also, when you consider that Patsy did not criticise Ritchie really at all, it seems very strange. A leadership challenge is not just for some change in the party direction, it is a challenge to the leader – very personal and there should be some signal that there is a loss of confidence in her.

    If Patsy is to win a battle against her, he would surely have to criticise her. The fact that he didn’t suggests he doesn’t expect a battle.

    So I’m starting to think there is going to be a little stage-managed blood letting and then a transition. I just can’t figure out how they are going to do it.

  • Charminator

    Agree entirely re the “outreach agenda”. Without doubt, there are SDLPers who have had grave misgivings about the wisdom of such an agenda, propelled as it has been by a leader based in a moderately Nationalist constituency, and highly dependent on continuing Unionist strategic voting.

    The coup may be bloodless (though I suspect not), but the aftermath and the truly radical surgery which McGlone shall have to perform on the party will be far from bloodless. He, like many others, likely recognises that the SDLP – as a Northern party – has had it’s day. To talk – as he oft does – of the SDLP’s contribution to “Ireland” without actually enjoying some form of representation in most of “Ireland” is outdated and I suspect (especially after re-reading his past comments on a FF merger) that Patsy will take the party shopping for a new Southern partner. Patsy’s FF option may be far less attractive today, but that’s not to say that FG will be disinterested. This phase will be challenging for the party, if it isn’t then McGlone’s not cleaning the house properly. No entity so unfit for purpose can restore itself to health without some serious personnel changes and radical restructuring.

    I don’t have any particular comment on the autism and disability references to some backbench SDLP MLAs, except to say that whilst that’s all well and good (and I’d expect most MLAs and likely SF’s commitment to such issues is no less), it’s hardly likely to resonate with the voters in a deep way. It’s not the bread and butter issues which the SDLP can’t handle: we’ve all long known that these are issues – such as the economy – where SF sometimes “struggle”. The SDLP’s quandary is the “National Issue” and with poppies galore in some quarters and Patsy quoting Padraig Pearse (as he’s done in the past) in others, that’s not an easy circle to square!

  • I dont know if I would go quite so far as Lionel Hutz @ stage management. But there probably is a little choreography involved.
    The starting point had to be the opening of ballot boxes at Count Centres. Certainly there was a certain shock….and texts indicating it was ok in some places.bad in others….some looked safe…..some looked “out”….but the feeling at the Count which I attended was “Margaret has to go” as early as lunchtime Friday.
    And not a very different picture accross other sixteen constituencies.
    and within a week that shock was turning to anger.
    Some had been lucky (eg Dolores Kelly)
    Some had not been lucky (eg Tommy Burns)
    And no doubt that Anger filtered thru to the highest level.

    But the odd…and surprisingly good thing …is that nobody so far has got into a public spat.
    I dont “do” Twitter but it might appear obvious that people are not saying much on social networking sites.
    But erstwhile SDLP figures like Feeney, Murray and Kelly….and the Irish News itself might be setting a mood which is unstoppable.

    There are loose ends…..McDonnell. McDevitt. Attwood and other unelected people who have a vested interest in outcome.
    Another loose end….Deputy Leader.
    Another loose end for Ritchie…Westminster, retirement or other dignified exit.

    But those visuals of proposed Leaders flanked by supporters has not happened…..yet.
    Maybe at the Nominatiions.
    But the Word is probably out. Least Done, Soonest Mended.
    No signs of a party tearing itself apart in public for the benefit of their opponents……
    Yet it seems strange that those close to Margaret Ritchie have not taken soundings or see the writing on the wall.

    I dont suppose SDLP members are too happy about it. Margaret Ritchie has been a Party member for nearly four decades and thats a lot of friends, even presumably among those who didnt vote for her.
    That Ritchie is a poor leader is obvious.
    And a mere 18 months is little time to give a Leader.
    Because to be quite honest Margaret Ritchie did nothing wrong in standing for the Leadership.
    The biggest mistake was made by 222 people telling her that THEY got it wrong.

    I dont really “get” Charminators focus on Fianna Fáil.
    I dont think that Ritchies representing the most moderate rural nationalis constituency and her appeal to unionist voters is really so big an issue in itself. That she tried to “impose” or “play” this…..with the not afraid to say “Northern Ireland” or wearing a poppy at Downpatrick would be ok in South Down but someone should have noticed it would not play in Crossmaglen or Coalisland…..with nationalists..OR unionists for that matter in Enniskillen or Ballymena.
    South Down isnt Norn Iron. And perhaps someone close to her should have noticed.

    I think Charminator is optimistic to think of poppies galore in some quarters. I cant see many delegates (except Margarets entourage wearing them). maybe if the British Legion have a stall there…it could be interesting.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Someone is going to have to explain this FF merger to me as well. I’m not really sure also what the supposed FF-Labour divide means in the context of the political compass of members of the SDLP. The parties in the south appear to me to be more divided by their history than their present – and the affinity that many in the SDLP have with many in FF would appear to me to be simply down to the fact that FF spent more time in office when the SDLP needed the support of the government.

    The SDLP do not fit neatly into any party in the south, however FF would probably cover more bases than any other party. But in any case, this is not the time to merge with any party. The SDLP need to fix their own problems first. Frankly, I also think that the SDLP has probably the proudest history of any Irish Party. I don’t see why they would rush to lose that.

    Also, I just do not get this pre-occupation with vocabulary. I think they should just use the words that are more natural. Myself, I say Derry ofcourse – its most natural to me. As for Northern Ireland versus the North , it depends on the context. If I am talking about differences between the here and Britain, I would say Northern Ireland. I am talking about comparisons North and South, I say North. I never say the North of Ireland, because it sounds f***ing stupid and forced. If thats what it takes to be an Irishman, God help us.

    I would like to see SDLP present a simply mature nationalism, focused on a type of civic nationalism. I would highlight the shared values North and South and the division between Northern Ireland and Britain (see what I did there). On that score, I would never once countenance wearing a Poppy. That represents the aspect of Britain that is most alien to me, and something I never want to get along with.

    On the other thread, Charminator struggled to find an explanation in relation to how people like Margaret Ritchie and Patsy McGlone could ever be in the same party. FJH replied by saying common decency. It probably is as simple as that. I would also say that every member and supporter of the SDLP would believe in this statement:

    “The SDLP has revolutionised Irish politics. The founding principles of the party are as relevant today as they were during the civil rights campaign. The unity of the people of Ireland, a unity built on trust, along with practical social democracy – being there for people through the good and bad times – lie at the heart of every SDLP member and supporter.”

    That is probably the tie that binds this group together. Are they really that far apart. I mean the British Labour Party managed to hold John Prescott and Peter Mandelson in the same party. Isn’t that something that political parties have to do to have any chance of being successful. We hear recently of a Urban/Rural divide in the SDLP, but surely any party in Ireland has to overcome the problems of appealing to both rural and urban voters. If you fail in that, you will end up as FF and the UUP have in the recent elections or the Irish Labour Party and the Alliance Party. To be fair, although support has waned, the SDLP does manage to get support across the 18 constituencies

    There has also been a fair amount of criticism of Alban McGuinness on this thread. I would say that there is no problem with Alban but there is a problem with the candidates that the SDLP have in Belfast. Alban the Barrister, Alasdair the Doctor, Conall to Public Relations Man, and Alex the …….emmmmmm career politician and law graduate. All coming from that sort of highly educated background. Theres nothing wrong with that but they could do with a bit of balance – parties need that in a city.

  • I just dont get the FF thing at all. Or indeed the Labour thing.
    Lionel Hutz makes the point that FF simply more in Office than FG. Obviously true and a factor but I think (almost entirely rhetorically) FF is more nationalist….FG has tended on occsaions to show a possibly more even handed approach to all parties here…not necessarily something in the interests of SDLP.
    But the other side of that is that a significant number of northern nationalists (and I include myself) as at best “stroke politicians” and at worst “a bunch of chancers”….though more likely to pull a fast one “for” nationalists rather than “against” nationalists.

    Nor do I see the Labour thing. Most of my aquaintenance arent that bothered about the North and a bit superior about it all. Yoorp is where its at for many of them and the trade unions (a waste of space in the north since partition anyway) and the influx of ex Republican Clubs, ex Workers Party, ex Semocratic Left ex Offic….oops I forgot they never existed……doesnt really inspire SDLP people in West Belfast who remember them as a bigger bunch of chancers than FF.
    No Ive never worn a poppy and never will. Nor will I be drawn into faux joint commemorations. Load of faux get alongerist nonsense.
    Vocabulary…..”Derry” always. Margaret Ritchie got dutiful applause for announcing shes not afraid to say “Northern Ireland” Good for her but she wont be saying “Londonderry” in this Millenium.
    For the purposes of Slugger its “Norn Iron” and “Ireland”.
    In real life I would gratuiytously offend anyone so its “all much the same context as ionel Hutz says. Whatever trips off the tongue. Not that Nationalists have a monopoly of gratuitous offence……”Eire”, “Irish Republic”.

    For all purposes its “Irish”. Never “Northern Irish” (Ive never met a form yet (including a census form) that was impossible to change. On any form I was born in “Belfast, Ireland” which is a bit awkward on a Internet blogging site which does not give me that option. Given the choice of “Northern Ireland” or County Louth, I am located in the latter. Cant win them all.

    “Common Decency” well to be honest the set up “what do they have in common?” was too easy to avoid the obvious punchline “Decency” but no apologies for actually believing that Decency is a core SDLP value of whatever “wing”.
    Possibly they dont havea decent respect for their own past. Im not totally at ease with the way a very good friend of my father Paddy Wilson has been practically erased from SDLP history. They dont do icons and martyrs well but the sole member (?) of the SDLP murdered in the Troubles by UDA/UFF maybe deserves some recognition within the Party.

    Are the wings of the SDLP so far apart? No. But in times of tension (and a Leadership Election is such a time) its always possible that those who dont get their way drift off. What exactly would they do? Theres nothing for them in an existing centrist party. And no influence in being an “Independent” and no real effective chanfge at Council level. Some could call themselves “Socialists” (like Fitt or Devlin) and meet with a few lefties in a Belfast bar to form “a new forward thinking,left of centre blah blah blah”. Yeah that will work.
    I could say more on that score. Ive bought the FittDevlin T shirts. Lionised by Belfast lefties and QUB academics who would never actually have voted for either of them or the SDLP that they were members…but have Paddy Devlins book in the bookshelf.
    Socialist Unity…my ar**.

    The Belfast candidates from the “professional classes”. A fair point but I think overstated. Ive seen too many doctors, solicitors, teachers etc from West Belfast leave it for leafier parts of the City and I might even include myself……..and Ive seen some celebrate West Belfast and others repudiate it. And Ive seen some return to merely criticise its values.
    So maybe to contextualise this. I admire Alex Attwood. Obviously a disaster if he led the SDLP of course but a victim of vitriol in West Belfast from people who you wouldnt like if you reared them. But hes after my time in West Belfast.
    Dr Joe Hendron….yes he ws a doctor….who served the people of West Belfast and like othe “doctors” he could just have easily turned his back on West Belfast except for narrow “professional purposes”. He chose to serve them politically and honourably. And Id say the same for Dr McDonnell, again like Dr Joe , not a native and nit as affectionately held who took the same route,. And Alban, a North Belfast native did not “need” to be a politician.

    But I was around in the 1970s and not always easy to live in Andytown, Ballymurphy, New Lodge and Beechmount and be known as a SDLP person.
    Another T shirt I own.
    Nor was it easy for Gerry Fitt on the Antrim Road, Or Paddy Devlin in Greenan or for Dessie Gillespie in Gransha or Vincent McCloskey in Andytown.
    They all did their bit running round West Belfast RUC stations to find out if wee Paddy had been lifted. A few days later wee Paddys mother would have no shame in picketing their houses.

    To some extent “professionals” in the community….doctors, solicitors, St Marys/Trench House lecturers got a bye ball. Even the Provos and the Stickies (who never existed of course) needed solicitors and doctors. And people like Hendron, McDonnell, Brian Feeney, Paschal O’Hare, Colm Gillespie, Mary Muldoon emerged.
    And really when people like Fitt and Devlin left (dont start me on them) there was a lack of people available. Those in gainful employment in West Belfast were often lower rank civil servants whose social conscience meant they were often SDLP members but prohibited by Civil Service regulation and the need to not alienate colleagues….from fully participating.

  • oops “in real life I would NOT gratuitously offend anyone”

  • Charminator

    Lionel Hutz, fitzjameshorse, thanks.

    On the “common decency” point – and apologies for the repetition from the other post:

    It’s a term with no clear meaning that can be bandied about to mean whatever it’s advocate hopes. A SF supporter might, for example, suggest that their representatives working on the “average industrial wage” is the height of “common decency” in these cash-strapped times.

    And I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether travelling to Afghanistan, courtesy of the MoD, is “decent”. I don’t at all agree that wasting taxpayers money travelling to a warzone is the decent thing to do, much less so in the circumstances of what is happening there. Did he exercise the same decency in visiting Afghan victims? The British Army has been in a war in one place or another for most of the last century: visiting such warzones may be decent in your view, but I would hazard a guess that in the view of the great many Nationalists/Republicans, it is a demonstration of poor judgement, all the more so coming from a “Nationalist” political representative. (The “having constituents serving” nonsense is a total red herring: at that rate every MP should be taking trips to Afghanistan exercising such “uncommon decency” and, of course, costing the taxpayer quite a bit for it too. Had Tommy paid himself for his little excursion, I could at least understand how it could be viewed as altruistic, but hardly so given all he did was board a plane courtesy of the MoD).

    Lionel Hutz – I recall having a bit of banter with you before: prior to the Assembly elections.

    I recall thinking that your “blue skies” analysis then was typical of what seems to be the ostrich mentality of some in the SDLP. At the time, I wondered what could cause such blind belief that everything was so rosy, when to so many outside we could see no circumstances where the SDLP would emerge with anything resembling a resurgent vote. And despite the election results, serveral months later – nothing has changed I see. Nothing learned. Trundle along as usual, Norris à la Beckett, “Fail Again. Fail Better”. Perhaps good enough for you, but I would hope for a great many other SDLP activists some deep soul-searching and forensic analysis is required.

    For the readership, some of your choice posts back then were:

    “Watch this space – the assembly elections will be crucial. The SDLP can make inroads into SF vote particularly when recession bites.”

    But my particular favourite was:

    “I would bet that Sinn Feins vote share will go down from 2007 and SDLPs will go up. Sinn Fein total vote will go down.”

    I do hope you didn’t put too large a bet on?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Have you got a link to that thread. I seem to remember that the bet we actually settled on was on Sinn Feins total vote. You said they would get more votes, I said they would get less. Loser had to donate to slugger.

    My thinking on the SDLP is not rosy at all. But I still believe there is potential. There was massive potential to pull back some ground from Sinn Fein in the election – even though austerity has not really hit us yet- not in terms of public expenditure. My analysis was based on the belief that this would be the first assembly election based on bread and butter issues – which you agree that the SDLP can score well on.

    Unfortunately it was not based on bread and butter issues. A string of security problems put paid to that. I was visited by Sinn Fein canvassers over the course of the election. They simply said that “we need to keep this peace process on the road”.

    It may be blue-sky thinking or rosy or whatever but for me Margaret Ritchie’s failing were down to her petty jibes at Sinn Fein to the detriment of focussing on their failings in government. There was no detail. If they wanted to attract more votes, they needed to demonstrate that they are a arty capable of good governance. Shhe was disastrous and cost them more than that 1% share IMO

  • Impossible to quantify just how many votes Margaret Ritchie cost the SDLP.
    Its all well and good for her supporters to say she is an asset in South Down…indeed she is……but a Laeder needs to be an asset beyond his/her constituency.
    SDLP went into Election with 16 seats.
    The range of seats predicted on Slugger was around 14 to 18. But there was at least every cause for a degree of Optimism. Whatever the percentage the SDLP lost three MLAS (and had one gain) and crucially was runner up in seven constituencies.
    The difference between coming sixth and seventh is massive and the Ritchie effect caused them to be on the wrong side of that divide too often.
    While LIonel Hutz makes the point that the SDLP can justifiably attack SF (and indeed its junior rival in government) on governance itself this can be done better from Opposition benches.

    The choreography of getting Ritchie out with a degree of dignity might revolve around making the Laedership contest about Government (supported by Ritchie) or Opposition (which might be a rallying call if Patsy took that up).
    Therefore a transition could be spun as a change of Direction rather than Ritchie being out of her depth.

    To return briefly to “professionals” (solicitoors, doctors etc) representing the SDLP in West Belfast…theres always been a strong element of middle class in “socialist” politics everywhere.

    Its not as sinister as Tony Bliar in Sedgefield, Mandy in Hartleppol and the Milibands in South Shields and Doncaster.