Conall McDevitt has left the SDLP with some explaining to do.

Reacting to the personal health care decisions taken by Gerry Adams, the Irish Indo* reports an attack by the SDLP’s Conall McDavitt McDevitt in the following terms.

“In terms of socialism and social democracy, this is against SDLP values of not seeking better treatment simply because you have more money”.

Since the South Belfast MLA’s Stormont appearances mean he trousers considerably more cash, vacation and benefits than most of Northern Ireland’s and indeed the world’s workers I assume that whatever mélange of values McDevitt is drawing on, his beef is with private citizens choosing to access private health care and not with the broader phenomenon of some “having more”.

So, either McDavitt McDevitt is launching a new SDLP sideline in moral and financial advice for private citizens or worse (I think worse) we’re seeing the beginning of an SDLP advocacy campaign designed to pass legislation that would restrict access to private health care per se. Neither option should fill SDLP supporters with optimism.

McDavitt’s McDevitt’s sentiment – for it could hardly be considered a coherent policy position – should alarm all citizens concerned with basic liberties. Why is it any of McDevitt’s damn business how you and your family choose to use whatever wealth you have in pursuit of the best healthcare you can avail of?

If he was on-script, the South Belfast MLA’s expressed hostility towards citizens seeking to use private wealth in pursuit of private health care raises fundamental questions about his party’s current ideological compass and whether it understands much about a modern economy, the role and source of innovation and the role of the state. Questions like these:

1. Is the SDLP seeking to restrict the right to access private health care?
2. What in the SDLP’s view should citizens “with more” do when faced with the option of accessing better health care than is available on the NHS?
3. Should health care decisions concerning one’s private use of private wealth be left to private individuals or should the SDLP and the state be given a seat at the kitchen table as families consider their options?
4. Does the Social Democratic and Labour Party no longer understand the difference between social democracy and socialism?

The SDLP, to its credit, has never been a socialist party despite a preponderance of self-described “socialists” within its aging ranks. If the party’s next generation of politicians is more in touch with the 1980s British Labour Party than the challenges and opportunities posed by the modern world then there really is no medicine capable of aiding its fading light. At least no medicine enough of its current members seem willing to drink.

* I have withheld a link to the Indo article as a protest in the face of the stupidity of the Irish Press’s link-charging fiasco. You can find the article via the sainted John Fay’s Nuzhoud site. Don’t leave it too long to look. If the current thinking persists, such papers won’t be around much longer.

  • Gopher

    Fascinating stuff mono cognitive public purse nationalists have a spat over private health care.

    Now the question I would be asking is has Dr Alasdair McDonnell GP ever taken private money for treating someone privately?

  • Ruarai

    That no doubt is the question you would ask Gopher.

    But I’m hoping we can raise the debate level a little so hopefully some interesting questions or comments will be raised by other posters.

  • michael-mcivor

    The last throw of the S.d.l.p dice-oppose the sick and their treatments- cant see it catching on-

  • Gopher


    My question is the whole crux of the matter on every level. From Mc Devitts competence as a politician to do the SDLP condone profit from Health Care? To the downright hypocrisy of public purse nationalism.

    ” in terms of socialism and social democracy, this is against SDLP values of not seeking better treatment simply because you have more money”

    So has the Leader of the SDLP acted against the values of his party?

  • David Crookes

    Oh, good! It isn’t only the unionist parties that are lost.

  • David,
    This seems to me poor judgement by Conall. I await developments. I also await a post or 2 on the big story today. Nelson’s attempt to dismantle the NIHE. Now that is what Conall should have been dealing with, it is, after all, core SDLP territory.

  • As a social-democrat I believe in the necessity of a free public health service funded through general taxation and available to all citizens. But I also believe in the right of citizens to seek medical treatment through other means, whether private or overseas, if they so choose or can afford to do so. There is nothing morally or ideological wrong with that.

    If a man has cancer and a treatment is available for it overseas should the man allow himself to die because of some bizarre ideological belief that insists on only seeking medical treatment available domestically?

    If a parent has an autistic child and educational programs exist elsewhere should they not be allowed to seek them out because they are not available to everyone?

    What next? Woman who can afford to have abortions overseas should be barred from travelling because some other women can’t and must go to full term? That would be a new twist for the anti-abortion lobby.

    Very, very disappointed in SO’T and Mick Fealty for raising this issue. It is NOT political. Conall McDevitt has done his reputation considerable harm by raising this matter.

  • Gopher

    I honestly think the SDLP position on on Health needs clarified in the assembly. Off course if Alasdair has not taken money then there is no call for anyone to resign.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Bangordub. Let’s wait for developments.

  • Ruarai

    David – why wait? Take the lead.

    What are your own views on private health care, the role of the state, the right to buy the best you can find and so on?

    An Sionnach Fionn has us up and running and I’m keen to hear you own views and as many others as possible.

    These questions are too important to leave to politicians.

  • Pete Baker

    “So, either McDavitt is launching a new SDLP sideline in moral and financial advice for private citizens or worse (I think worse) we’re seeing the beginning of an SDLP advocacy campaign designed to pass legislation that would restrict access to private health care per se.”

    Really Ruarai? How about neither. And it’s McDevitt. I’m not a fan, but at least get his name right.

    It’s a crass single line from an MLA in a statement attempting to capitalise on Adams’ cavalier approach to access to health care. Ill-thought out? Certainly. Is the criticism of Gerry valid? Certainly.

    But how, exactly, would that suggested legislation get passed, btw? In the current Assembly? Or, indeed, in any subsequent incarnation under the indigenous deal…

  • Ruarai

    Pete, thanks for the name-spelling check (sorry Conall).

    The rest of your points are better addressed by McDevitt. I’m curious myself.

  • Pete Baker

    “The rest of your points are better addressed by McDevitt.”

    The rest of my points question your assumptions.

  • Ruarai

    Yes Pete. And they’re better addressed by McDevitt.

    The post quite clearly lays out questions he or his colleagues are invited to answer. Their answers should clarify a lot.

  • David Crookes

    Ruarai, I am personally left of left on this one. Six months ago, for the first time in my life, I experienced NHS hospital care for several days. I couldn’t have asked and never shall ask for anything better.

    If someone wants to spend his money in another jurisdiction, that is no business of mine: but if I seized control of the Sturmberg tomorrow, I should work to create a state with as good an NHS as possible, and nothing else.

    Sorry if you think that’s simple-minded.

  • Pete Baker


    “The post quite clearly lays out questions he or his colleagues are invited to answer.”

    Your assumptions are better adressed by someone else?

    They’re your assumptions.

  • Ruarai


    cheers. Not simple-minded at all and, personally, I agree with you to a point. Though that point is just a starting point in the attempt to outline operating principles and sensible policy.

    Where it gets interesting for me is less on the question of how best to optimize the NHS, very important as that is, and more around how to optimize the broadest range of health care services and access to those services. Healthcare shouldn’t start and end at as defined by the strengths and dynamics of the NHS.

    It’s on that broader point where I recognize a critical role for private health care operators and the incentives and competition that private entities depend on. Remember, many of the treatments, equipment, techniques and medicines that are made available through the NHS only exist because they’ve been developed by private companies with private incentives.

    This for me is where social democracy leaves socialism in the dust. Social democrats see a critical balance between a net of services made available and affordable to all but within a broader ecosystem that allows markets to incentivize the next great treatment, cure or innovation – breakthroughs that state services will come to rely on.

    I’m simplifying and idealizing to an extent, granted, and of course many of the practices of health insurances companies stink. But socialists ultimately have no good answer to the goods and initiatives that come via private market activity.

    Hence the need for McDevitt and the SDLP to clarify the reasons for and intended meaning of the hostility he expressed towards private citizens using private wealth to access private health care. (And trying to turn it into an Adams-centric question won’t cut it. Afterall, Conall premised his who attack on SDLP vaues – so this cuts to the core of where he is coming from. And whether he’s in step with his Social Democratic party.)

  • Ruarai

    No Pete, it’s Conall’s claimed “SDLP values” – unspecified but in need of clarification – and their implications for and relationship to party policy that need to be unpacked here.

    Try to keep you gaze fixed on that for a moment even if you find the spotlight on the party uncomfortable.


    I feel your reading too much into this. McDevitt has seen an opportunity for publicity and a chance to have a go at Sinn Fein and taken it, rightly or wrongly.

    He’s now in a position where is either has to explain it as part of a wider strategy or policy of the SDLP or for what it was a cheap dig at a mans health.

  • Ruarai

    Yes MalcolmX, he is as you say, “in a position where is either has to explain it as part of a wider strategy or policy of the SDLP or for what it was a cheap dig at a mans health.”

    The 4 questions I’ve outlined should help him along.

    There has been an undercurrent of “socialists” in the party of years, holding it back and reducing policy discussions to student union style bullshit. So what if he misspoke, if he did. Enough already with lazy pretend-socialist cant.

    Does the party have a serious health care platform or not?

  • Gopher

    Perhaps Nolan can fit Conall in at some stage this week to explain. He always seems to like the media.

  • Ruarai,
    Your points are well made, it will be interesting to see what Conall has to say tomorrow as he undoubtedly needs to say something. I have little doubt words will be had in his ear.

  • Ruarai

    Yes! Nolan, good idea. Send me the link if he does.

  • New Yorker


    Do you think it was hypocritical of Adams to fly to NY for private medical care in light of his statements regarding private health care and his party’s policies on same?

  • Ruarai


    that’s a question for Mick’s threat but since you ask me, I’ll say this. The only thing we can be sure of when someone gets treated in hospital is that they’d no doubt prefer to be doing something else, somewhere else. The need for treatment can arise suddenly, may require something specific and not readily available, etc, etc. It’s complicated.

    But I will say this, if SF health care policy is that private providers should be run out of town, that we should “Copy Cuba!” or some other lunacy like that – and I assume it probably is? – then let’s hope that Adams’ experience in NY will have broadened his horizons on the potential value and role of private specialist care.

    Perhaps Nolan could invite him to share his perspective on that model at the same time as inviting McDevitt to explain why Adams was wrong to seek it; wrong not merely on the basis of breaking SF policy but wrong on the basis of SDLP health care policy.

    It’s SDLP policy I’m curious about here. Mick’s thread is dealing with SF policy and the potential break with it Adams’ care may or may not have represented.

  • Professor Yattle

    McDevitt has been all over the Oscar Knox campaign, which involved raising £250,000 for private treatment in the US.

    Here’s a link:

    How does this fit in with his ‘SDLP values’?

  • New Yorker


    When I read the article you cite it seemed to me that the mouth from the south was taking a pop at Adams and not discoursing on policy. I think that Pete above was alluding to that. It seems like in-your-face hypocrisy, do what I say not what I do, and he deserves to be lambasted for it.

  • babyface finlayson

    “I couldn’t have asked and never shall ask for anything better.”
    I admire your stance
    If your mother or child needed potentially life saving treatment not available here on the NHS, would you stick to your guns?
    Que sera sera?

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s the relevant segment from the paper:

    “SDLP Belfast assembly member Conall McDevitt criticised Mr Adams for opting out of the NHS, which would be available to him in Belfast. “In terms of socialism and social democracy, this is against SDLP values of not seeking better treatment simply because you have more money,” Mr McDevitt said.”

    So, he’s not inveighing against private health care as such, but rather asking why Gerry ‘opted out’ of the free health care he would have had access to either side of the border.

    There is no waiting list in Belfast. In other words if it was urgent, it would have been dealt with straight away on a GP referal.

    I agree that all parties in NI are poor on policy choices, but as Pete points out, we don’t yet do legislation on anything that really matters in the social sphere, so Ruarai can stand easy on that one…

    I do get the sense somewhat Conalls being fitted up for something he did not say/do…

  • David Crookes

    Many thanks for that substantial posting, ruarai (1.25 am). I agree in my head with everything that you say. A health-world in which wealthier people can go private does indeed help to finance R&D that will benefit everyone in time. (There is a certain analogy here with space travel and the technology which it generates.)

    But in my heart I hate the idea that a well-paid lawyer can live longer because he has money, and that a poorly-paid care assistant must die sooner because she has not.

    Thanks for the question, babyface finlayson (7.23 am). What I said about never wanting anything better than the NHS for myself was in effect a medico-political statement about myself. No sane man will try to impose his own political notions on a member of his family. Furthermore, any serious decision about the treatment of a parent or a child is usually taken by more than one person.

    That may strike you as an unsatisfactory answer, but I want to stay for a moment in the personal world to which your question relates. A question about health can often be a question that is ultimately connected with mortality. One operation may be a matter of removing some minor inconvenience. Another operation may be a matter of life and death.

    We need to be very careful not to walk carelessly or scornfully down a point-scoring road when we address ourselves to the matter of a man or a woman’s health.

  • BarneyT

    As long as there is appropriate separation between the services and where they are delivered, the NHS and private care can co-exist. Private health providers should build and occupy their own premises and gain no provisioning from the NHS.

    NHS trained staff should be contractually obliged to serve the NHS for a defined and reasonable period before they embark on a private career. Inevitably private care will cause a resource drain and some protection must be given for that.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    I see Conall’s Wikipedia profile has been rewritten, it’s good that someone has such an interest in him to take the time to write and rewrite it.

    I only popped on it to check up on his career prior to co-option to the assembly.

    I’d find it hard to believe at least some of his previous jobs didn’t come with private medical as part of the benefits package.

    I also note that one previous company advertises for Interns, could he confirm if he ever hired unpaid employees?

    But I do get the feeling that all this is merely Conall trying to find a PR angle before attempting to get re-elected, I see he no longer claims to be a republican, doubtless a huge loss to the republican family

  • Gopher

    There is a by election coming in Mid Ulster I think it is only fair that we understand were all the parties stand on health care. I expect no less than a unambiguous statement from each candidate outlining their parties position. That is a reasonable question, that is not point scoring that is fundamental to being part of the electorate and not sheep. I think it is the right of the electorate to know how widespread private health care is used by the parties seeking election and if anyone profits by practicing it who holds an opinion on it. It is then up to the people to decide whether they elect someone on the basis of partition,1690, famine or flags or fundamental issues like the NHS and how they are going to fund it in their various Utopias. It would be refreshing to for someone to remind us what infant mortality was like before the NHS or explain what a SMR number is and how according to wealth that effects you instead of playing silly hypocritical games. I don’t expect a revolution in mid Ulster but a serious election instead of a sheep dog trial would be preferable

  • David Crookes

    When I read now what I said to you at 12.03 pm, babyface finlayson, I realize that I’ve committed a stupid act of clumsiness. My last two paragraphs were addressed solely to people who had chosen to comment on Mr Adams and how he deals with his health problems. They were neither addressed to you nor concerned with myself. Sorry if you thought I was being obtusely rude.

    “What will be will be…..” I guess there is an element of that in it for someone who resolves to stick to the NHS, and to wait in the queue. On the one hand you resolve without thinking not to ask for help from charmers and quack-healers. On the other hand you refuse to ask for special treatment.

  • babyface finlayson

    David Crookes
    No apology necessary. You don’t seem like a man who would be intentionally rude. Or indeed obtuse.
    I don’t think we can judge Gerry Adams too harshly in this instance. We do not know, and nor should we know. the seriousness of his problem.
    Maybe we expect a higher standard from politicians than ourselves when we charge them with hypocrisy.

  • shamie

    As an opening post, this strikes me as either really silly or completely disingenuous.

    The Irish Indo piece (and McDevitt’s contribution to it) is clearly and obviously not making any of the points suggested here. The point, which is actually a good one and politically v damaging for SF, is that the Leader of a party that preaches the evils of private healthcare to the rest of us, is actually the benficiary of extraordinarily expensive private healthcare in the US.

    Criticism of those who point this out is actually pretty sinister – are you proposing that there is no issue with Gerry Adams whipping up public anger about a policy that he personally approves of and benefits from?

  • Ruarai


    if you want to discuss Adams’ healthcare please take that to Mick’s thread that has been set up for that.

    This thread is about healthcare policy and specifically what McDevitt has clearly stated -whether inadvertently, deliberately, accidentally; who knows? – about “SDLP values” and healthcare, I.e. your healthcare.

    Since his sentiments are patently not SDLP values –unless the party has changed its values in a radically socialist direction – it raises questions.

    Since his sentiments contain nothing that could be considered remotely fit for policy-purpose this raises a different set of equally important questions.

    Some of those questions are on the thread.

  • sherdy

    The greenest aspect of Conall and the SDLP is their politics of envy.

  • Gopher

    The trouble is McDevitt has watched too much West Wing. Unfortunately what he failed to realise after taking down a flag politics gets increasingly more intellectually demanding. Perhaps a year out to get a broader understanding of the world or an economics course at night tech might help.

  • David Crookes

    Tremendous, Gopher. I’m certain that CMcD is a thoroughly decent man (I had a wide-ranging conversation with him once), and we can all see that he is in a hurry to get things done. How will he get things done in the sleepy old world of the SDLP? I don’t know: but he should beware of catching the Edwina Currie disease (try to create some kind of headline once a week). After the swings and roundabouts of recent days he may have been at pains to put what is vulgarly called clear blue water between the SDLP and SF.

  • Gopher

    @David Crookes

    I will defer to your personal experience on CMcD and not dispute your understanding and I have nothing against the man on a personal level. Politically of course he is a mono cognitive public purse nationalist albeit one in a hurry and I do applaud the idea of trying to put clear daylight between the SDLP and SF but that daylight is at the other end of the spectrum not at their socialist end. Ruarai mentioned degenerating the SDLP to “student union bullshit” and that is what our man in a hurry did.

    How will he get things done in the SDLP? That question is relative like a player going down the divisions with his club. For without fundamental change that is destiny. Does he have the ability to be for something? If he does then he needs to strike boldly out and leave behind “student union bullshit”

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Gopher. Student union stuff! Yes, indeed. I shudder when I hear that such-and-such a British politician was a Mr Big in his university debating society. You tend to acquire two things in the pretentious bouncy-castle world of student politics: a mad earnest self-importance, and a conviction that you must be ready to express an opinion on any subject whatsoever.

    A mature politician will grow in stature according as he refuses to concern himself with nugatory ephemera. To the foolish journalist who asks him, ‘What do you think about [some monumental triviality]?’, he will reply, ‘I don’t think about it at all.’

    If you resist the temptation to get the boot in when one of your political opponents behaves inconsistently, people will be more forgiving when you do something inconsistent yourself. We’re all human, and most of us do something inconsistent every so often.

    I beware of former senior prefects who live their lives robotically in perfect conformity with the party doctrines. They make me want to reach for a whoopee cushion.

  • Gopher


    Unfortunately David I would come from a more Machiavellian and Clausewitzian school than your more chivalrous one. Chivalry unfortunately in Northern Ireland is Quixotic.

    If you are going to land a blow on your opponent make sure it is a bloody good one. First of all you need a good stance, being more socialist than SF is not a good stance that is “student union bullshit”. He may not have to believe it but CMcD will need a road to Damascus conversion if he is ever going to have a proper stance to tackle his political enemies. CMcD swung missed hit his party and then fell on the canvas.

    Adams has made the SF healthcare position completely suspect and opened several other cans of worms. The unionists are thick but believe me they are keeping their powder dry on that one. Lesson to CMcD timing a is everything.

    Nope if you put the boot in make sure it hurts, make sure it hurts your opponent so much it draws him out into a progressively losing fight a bit like the what is happening in the flag dispute. And since we are talking about CMcD and the SDLP there are smart ways to get a flag down and stupid ways and I know how Machiavelli would have got the flag down. Blessed are the peacemakers even if they arnt sincere.

  • David Crookes

    Gopher, this sounds to me like the book formerly known as The Prince!

    Of course you are right, and I’m wrong. But chivalry, like honesty, can occasionally give you the advantage of surprise in politics. I’ll have to go back to the Thirty-Six Aphorisms. Thanks for your posting.

    Politics shouldn’t be a matter of persuading people that you’re the Hottie and everyone else is the Nottie. Reserve your fire for the right time is always a good motto. It helps if you have decent sources of information, as for example one of the intelligence services. Then you don’t need to react to every passing news story.