Review of the SDLP conference – lacking passion and oomph … perhaps waiting for a new leader #sdlp14 [audio]

SDLP delegatesThe SDLP conference took place on Friday and Saturday in the Ramada Hotel. Using the same venue as the UUP’s get-together four weeks ago, the nationalist party had chosen to divide the main ballroom in half, swapping delegate seats for more exhibitor space. But it wasn’t just the layout and configuration that contrasted with their unionist cousins.

This year’s SDLP conference lacked passion. That’s not entirely true: on Saturday afternoon Dolores Kelly and Alex Attwood delivered speeches with gusto and plenty of heart. But alarmingly, most of the Saturday sessions at the party’s annual conference were on the whole unexciting and the leader’s address lacked oomph.

Someone this week talked to me about the uselessness of “leaders without followers”. Alasdair McDonnell falls into this category. His stumbling leader’s speech was relatively mundane with few elector-friendly ideas, and lacked the rises and falls that make a political speech memorable. He talked about vision, yet the “New SDLP” seemed very like the current one, and he failed to boost morale and excite his audience.

Whatever internal restructuring and reform he has delivered cannot possibly outweigh the lack of vigour in the party that are mostly in neutral gear waiting for the opportunity to select a new leader rather than confidently accelerating towards the next election.

As expected, Mairia Cahill dominated the minds of many delegates. She addressed a well attended fringe meeting on “No Compromise on Truth and Accountability” at lunchtime. While no longer in the building, Mairia dominated the Justice, Policing and Parades session later on Saturday afternoon, featuring in an emergency motion and giving deputy leader Dolores Kelly the opportunity to attack Gerry Adam’s poor memory.

While Mairia’s plight at the hands of the republican movement provided plenty of opportunity to criticise Sinn Féin, being known for opposing Sinn Féin isn’t what will make the SDLP distinctive to voters and bring about electoral success.

Progress at the current round of talks was castigated. And if Sinn Fein pull off a deal to reduce the number of seats in each Assembly constituency to five, the SDLP will be fighting for every vote to avoid in a series of tight races across Northern Ireland.

After two years, Alasdair McDonnell has finally modified his language towards opposition and it seems that it would only take a couple of dominoes to fall – and some structural support – for him to be comfortable withdrawing from the Executive. Given the isolation of the party’s only minister Mark H Durkan – the only minister who voted against the budget (definitely distinctive) and the one facing a Judicial Review launched by another minister – holding their breath and jumping out of the Executive airlock in the direction of opposition should be seriously considered sooner rather than later.

The SDLP realise that until they have identified a replacement leader, they have to hold onto and tholl their current one. Alex Attwood is clearly one of the most comfortable communicators in the party. But could his detractors accept him as a caretaker leader until someone like Nichola Mallon (with experience as a SPAD as well as mayoral duties) can be co-opted into the Assembly and returned at the next Assembly election. Or will Fearghal McKinney step forward and challenge after May’s election results.

audience for Mark H DurkanIt’s important to realise that the SDLP conference – similarly to Sinn Féin’s ard fheis … and the Green Party – debates motions brought by branches and groups within the party at their conference. This is in total contrast with unionist conferences that policy debate out of sight and use their public event as a stage-managed rallying call for members and a media opportunity for representatives.

Given the emphasis on socialising at the SDLP conference, the smaller venue meant that many of the sessions attended by 50-100 people didn’t look quite so sparse. However, it must be a concern for the party that the delegates bothering to sit through the lengthy policy sessions as well as speaking for/against the motions tended to be older and male. SDLP Youth were present but my perception was in smaller numbers and with less energy.

Friday evening’s session included a motion from the Cavehill/Fortwilliam branch calling for the “establishment of an SDLP Think Tank to develop an in-depth analysis, proposals and a roadmap to progress the case for an Agreed Ireland that would command the necessary consent for constitutional change in the future”.

An amendment brought by the Lisburn branch failed which preferred “a New Ireland convention … with a majority of ordinary citizens from across the island, representation from civic society organisations and with minority representation from political parties on the island”. So we should expect to hear about the establishment of the SDLP’s Think Tank over coming months now that it is party policy.

In the meantime you can read and listen to Conall McDevitt’s thoughts back in February 2013 when I interviewed him about a new Ireland.

As well conducting some internal party business, Friday’s sessions included a speech by the deputy leader Dolores Kelly who once again used the platform to call for the party to leave the Executive and go into opposition.

She said that the SDLP supported “rapid growth” of the integrated education sector.

We cannot be serious about ending division if we perpetuate it by educating children apart … There is a huge opportunity to set integrated education on a new trajectory in the rationalisation of the schools estate. And ‘Shared Schools’ is a misleading concept. They are merely segregated schools who, sensibly, share resources. We must go beyond ‘shared’ to ‘integrated’.

Dolores added:

Division is the roadblock to all progress. Our opponents bossing the failed Executive have done nothing to foster reconciliation mainly because they actually benefit from division and deep down do not believe in a shared future. Sectarian headcounts are more their style.

That is why we have a First Minister who insults Muslims; a health minister who overrides scientific advice to insult gay people; another health minister who says that working class smokers with tattoos are serial law-breakers; and a double-jobbing former minster who gratuitously insults Irish speakers.

The other outfit is even worse. They have the brass necks to join public protests against health cuts waved through by their own party. And then we have the reprehensible, disgusting closing of the ranks against innocent victims of republican rape and child abuse; an ugly sight to behold in any democratic chamber.

The SDLP’s health spokesperson Fearghal McKinney called for the College of Emergency Medicine and the Health Minister “to ensure the recruitment of additional A&E Consultant Doctors for employment in Northern Ireland”.

The well-publicised stress on our A&E departments requires innovation in how we think about hospital admissions. Our move to introduce direct ward referral from GPs surgeries and longer GP opening hours would help to expedite and facilitate referral procedures.

On the topic of welfare reform, Alex Attwood:

We met the Secretary of State on Thursday, a meeting full of dogma and Treasury demands. Teresa Villiers gave us a paper.

It was silent on why one hundred in every 1000 are on disability benefits here compared with 50 in every 1000 in Britain. It was silent on the fact that child poverty here by 2020 will be over 30 per cent. It was silent on the welfare, physical and emotional needs of victims and survivors. It was silent on much else but it was full of sums. “We will not vote for a Welfare Bill with the financial top-up. This is very short of what is needed. We said this to the Secretary of State on Thursday. We repeat this again today.”

Saturday morning’s session began fifteen minutes late, looking at arts and culture, victims and survivors and north-south cooperation before the SDLP’s sole minister Mark H Durkan addressed conference.

Mark H Durkan

Voting against budget proposals that were rushed through to meet conditions attached to a Treasury loan, agreed with the DUP and followed lemming-like by Sinn Féin. Peter Robinson has tried to pass this off as something that any family would do in taking out a mortgage.

Some mortgage! With his financial planning and management I’m not sure I would trust Peter Robinson to go to the shop for me. [laughs and applause]

It was a laboured performance that later fluffed one of the carefully crafted jokes. The party only provided quotes from his speech and the sound quality is poor in the recording (some bits are missing as the sound feed at the back of the hall dropped out at various points).

Environment and Energy as well as Agriculture were squeezed in before a pause to allow delegates and exhibitors to stream into the hall to hear Alasdair McDonnell’s televised leader speech.

This year the leader was mercifully short, coming in at 26 and a half minutes, well under last year’s broadcast-slot-busting 39 minute oration. The lights had been carefully set the day before and the speech rehearsed. Yet Alasdair’s head was down, reading from his script and frequently stumbling over lines.

SDLP Alasdair McDonnellThe speech began with a list of topics Alasdair would cover:

I want to talk to you today about: better politics; a fairer Society; a more productive Economy; and a New SDLP poised for Government in the 21st century.

On the talks :

Let’s be frank here today friends, expectations for the current talks are very low. When I talk to people in their communities, in their homes, their sports halls and in their workplace. People want the Assembly to work, they want Stormont to work, they want Government Ministers to work together. People want the Assembly to deliver; they want change for the better; change that they can rely on. But it isn’t happening. As things stand Sinn Fein and the DUP do not, cannot and will not work constructively together. We don’t have partnership in Government – we have a self-serving partisan gridlock …

In the talks, we are putting peoples real needs first. We have listened to you and hundreds of others across the country. We know what you want us to do and where you want us to get to.

You have told us that:

  • You want a comprehensive settlement of all the outstanding issues;
  • You want to fix the broken Stormont system;
  • You want Northern Ireland to work and create prosperity;
  • You want us to make it work for all our people;
  • You want to make it work at maximum efficiency so that we deliver opportunities for all our people, particularly our young people …

We are putting forward credible solutions where other parties list their problems. When the DUP said No to having the Irish Government located in Parliament Buildings at Stormont, it was a farce because the Irish Government met with the SDLP and other parties in Parliament Buildings within a few hours – we made room for them. Minister Charlie Flanagan and his team are welcome in Stormont, and they are very welcome to stay there for as long as they need.

In the talks we are asking the other parties and the two governments to return to the principles of the Haass Talks on the past, on parades and on flags – where a reasonable compromise was reached last New Year’s eve …

Where do you see the leaders in Unionism who will attempt to see the parading problem in north Belfast through the eyes of beleaguered residents? When will everyone agree on a method to deal with the past that keeps the needs of victims and survivors at its heart?

I can reassure you that the SDLP will stay in the Talks as long as agreement is possible, exploring every opportunity for a positive outcome. We will reach out and cooperate with others on all the issues of genuine public concern and public need for change. If other parties share our aspiration then all the better, we will work with them to deliver a common agenda.

On opposition:

Conference, in the talks there is some focus on the structures of Government – and how it could be improved on. As things stand there is no official role for an opposition within the Stormont structures. We will argue for a properly structured opposition to be put in place in future years, resourced, allowed proper space and time on the floor of the Assembly, and allocated a share of staff support and places on committees.

In the meantime if other parties don’t get to grips with their responsibilities, and we can’t settle on an agreed way forward then we will reserve the right to operate from a position of constructive opposition. The present structures do not stop us from opposing bad legislation or from highlighting the flaws and the problems with the two bigger parties. Nor do they stop us from saying ‘No’.

We will not be part of a broken and politically bankrupt Executive if it doesn’t get its act together. But opposition cannot simply be a one day wonder, where we walk away, and adopt some sort of abstentionist role that would only result in even more Ministerial seats more authority and more power to do damage being handed to the problem parties.

Opposition has to have clearer definition and serve the public interest it is however an option we will reserve, we will review and we will evaluate on a month to month basis.

On the budget:

The talks agenda has been weighed down with the latest budgetary problems, which go way beyond the penalties imposed because of welfare reform. We have all known that the severe cuts we are now grappling with were heading our way since 2011. Why was there no long term planning by the two problem parties the DUP and Sinn Fein? Why in 2014 do we have a crisis around a growing budgetary problem that we have known about for the last four years?

So why have SDLP members of committees not been asking questions for the last four years?

The SDLP , in dealing with the budget will put people’s needs first. We will work for a fair budget that has maximum impact on job creation and growth and sets out to rebalance the economy. Our idea of a good budget is one that focuses on creating jobs, improving health care and provides better education opportunities for our children. We don’t accept anyone’s financial analysis or financial figures without question, whether it’s George Osborne or Simon Hamilton.

We will set up our own think tank of the best brains we can muster locally to dissect future budgets and produce creative alternatives. Where are the creative and progressive ideas going to come from if we in the SDLP don’t generate them?

On the North West economy:

There is a deep sense in the North West of a regional imbalance in inward investment projects. The SDLP will work with local business interests in the North West and take appropriate initiatives to tackle the particular economic difficulties faced in Derry and Strabane and Omagh. We will set up local working groups to tackle the significant those challenges. We find solutions to the problems and we will follow through and implement those solutions.

In his televised speech, Alasdair McDonnell did not mention Alex Atwood’s European election candidacy, and made no mention of the Euro poll. (Though I’m sure Alex was thanked at other points in the two day conference.)

On this year’s council elections:

In May this year we fielded a great slate of council candidates across the North standing alongside an experienced team of good SDLP Councillors were many new young candidates who caught the imagination of the public and were returned to help shape the new super councils.

Included among them we had more female candidates than ever before. [long applause] We set out to get the gender balance up to 33-35%. We reached 40%. I’m delighted and I want to congratulate those women who came forward and took those seats.

While we didn’t win as many seats as we had hoped, we can take great satisfaction from the regeneration and renewal of the party the people who stood for election this year are the future of this party, and the future of Ireland. I am confident that these new councillors at some stage in the future will proudly take over the mantle of John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady … Austin Currie … Paddy Duffy and many others who risked everything forty years ago for civil rights; Peace, for social justice, for economic prosperity and the right to live in an Ireland free from prejudice, sectarianism and violence.

He said that SDLP representatives in council chambers “are applying a simple formula” of putting people first and putting people’s needs hopes and dreams for their children first.

Today I am asking a group of these new young leaders to step forward and help draw up a strategy for growing our vote right across all eighteen constituencies. They are the future and I want them to start scoping out that future …

We are all here because we share a common ambition for our country – built on reconciliation, social justice, a shared prosperity, and a united people on the island of Ireland which accommodates all cultures, traditions, religions and beliefs.

The SDLP continues as ever to have at its heart the vision of a New and United Ireland. And we have never changed that goal.

However, it felt strange that the Conservative Party speeches on European withdrawal and the potential detrimental impact on Northern Ireland wasn’t linked into this restatement of fundamental SDLP policy.

Neither have we changed our deeply held view that this goal can only be achieved by persuading the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland, from both communities, that this is the best way forward for them and their children. We are not in the business of sectarianism, petty nationalism or militarism.

Republicanism, which should have been a term of inclusion, where all the children of the nation are treated equally regardless of politics, religion, race or opinion, has been sullied by those who would force their will on others, making it the mirror image of that under which we suffered so long.

The SDLP are solely in the business of persuasion and common decency. There can be no other pathway to the way ahead for Northern Ireland.

The SDLP wants to build that New Ireland where understanding, equality, reconciliation and inclusion are principles we can pass on confidently to our children and where the tyrannies of sectarianism, hatred and conflict are repulsive memories of what we have irrevocably consigned to the past.

In pursuing this the SDLP wants to create a vibrant forward-looking and outward-looking society, which would devote all its energies to introducing progressive policies and programmes that would lead to sustainable economic prosperity and solid social security.

I am very proud of our Country and I am very ambitious for her.

The SDLP leader spoke about the May 2015 Westminster election and pacts, but made no commitment to the possibility of him withdrawing from the Assembly if he retains his South Belfast seat.

Next year we will face into the Westminster elections, defending the three Parliamentary seats we hold and looking to continue growing our vote in other constituencies. We will not get distracted by the advances of either Martin McGuinness or Mike Nesbitt, seeking pacts. [long applause]

The SDLP will be standing candidates for election in every single constituency across the North – all eighteen of them – and we’ll be armed only with the quality of our candidates and our progressive policies.

They won’t be based on sectarian selfish interests. I’m already fighting South Belfast with all of my energy and Mark Durkan has been doing the same in Derry and Margaret Ritchie in South Down. [applause] I don’t mind telling you that if we weren’t here for today’s conference we would be out knocking doors, as we have been for the past few months in South Down, in Foyle, and in South Belfast.

In the Westminster election campaign right across the North, we will reach out to the voters and say quite simply:”‘Send us back to Westminster so that we can continue to do a good job there for you”.

Working with my MP colleagues Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie we voted against the ravages of the Tory Cuts dressed up as welfare reform, while Sinn Fein were launching some pathetic online petitions. We stood up for the people of Palestine last month in supporting their campaign to recognise their statehood. We used the committee structures of the House of Commons to expose the hypocrisy of the On The Run letters …

So don’t think that the SDLP will dilute our values or our policies in favour of a pact. The SDLP policies and principles and values are not for sale.

And on future Assembly elections:

Although most of the focus is on next year’s Westminster poll, we are also keeping an eye on the next Assembly election.

We may not have to wait to 2016 because if there is a successful outcome in the talks they might need an early Assembly election to validate it. But we need to examine why we are having these talks in the first place.

Seven years after the restoration of devolution, we still don’t have a credible stable functional Government in Stormont. We still have petty obstruction; argument; needling and dysfunction, instead of honest compromise and reasoned progress.

In what other coalition Government would one Minister resort to the courts to stop another Minister carrying out his job? And we congratulate Mark H Durkan for the job he’s doing there. For in what other situation would a petition of concern mechanism, designed to protect minority interests, becomes effectively a veto. I don’t need to list the examples of how Stormont is failing people. You all see it every day. Stormont is now a byword for blockage and failure. Is it any wonder that the majority of people are switched off by politics because of that?

Our job is to persuade people to vote for real change, to vote for something different, for something better, and for something that will work for them. Something that will put the real needs of all of our people first.

So in a 2016 Assembly election or 2015 if it comes a but sooner, we will say to the public – these are our priorities, in healthcare, in education and across all policy areas. We will cost our proposals and show how they can be paid for, and we will ask for support; and we will ask people for votes to deliver a new and better agenda for Government.

We will develop a suite of proposals for Government that are well grounded in common sense politics that cannot be ground to a halt by the default “for and against” zero sum politics of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

He posed some questions:

Why can’t we pledge that we will freeze third level tuition fees for the lifetime of the next Assembly?

Perhaps because NI can’t afford another binding tax generation cap in light of austerity and shrinking educational budgets?

Why can’t we pledge that all cancer patients get fair and reasonable access to the full range of life saving medicines that are available to patients over in Britain?

Why can’t we make a commitment that hard working families will get proper access to the pre-school places for their children on a fair and equal basis?

Why can’t we insure that development and investment is regionally balanced?

Why can’t we say that families will no longer have to pay for residential care for Granny or Granda?

Because there isn’t infinite budget? And because these questions don’t include: Why don’t we introduce water charges? Why don’t we increase rates? Why don’t we raise more tax? Why don’t we stop shying away from difficult decisions? Maybe Mark Durkan MP needs to remind colleagues what he learnt as Minister of Finance & Personnel.

Why can’t we give hope to young unemployed teachers by committing to reducing class sizes and opening new job opportunities for them?

There are parties and commentators who will say these objectives are undeliverable – why?

[Ed – Oops]

Successive Devolved Governments in Scotland are able to deliver a similar legislative programme which is socially just, targets social need, facilities economic growth and protects the vulnerable. Colleagues, it is not beyond our ability to look after the needs of our people in the same way. All we need is the Imagination and the commitment to make it happen.

[Ed – And we need a balanced budget …]

We can do a much better job in Stormont than the DUP and Sinn Fein who have failed the public repeatedly through indecision and invective.

We have shown that through the actions and decisiveness of our Minister Mark H Durkan and before him Alex and before him Margaret. As the party with responsibility for the Environment we have made that work for the economy. We made bold decisions on planning for major projects. We protected the natural habitat in Fermanagh and elsewhere. We used our position within the Executive to promote better policies and quicker decisions.

We can deliver. In a much better way for the benefit of all who live here. That is our track record and that is our future promise.

The speech concluded:

The SDLP has always and will always stand with the people for stability, peace, social and economic justice and the common good. It should be remembered that the overwhelming majority of people from both communities in Northern Ireland held and continue to hold these ideals and refused to be part of the lunacy that threatened to drive us all into civil war.

When will politicians stop talking about “both communities” and say “all communities”?

These people are still out there and will still give their vote to achieve our objectives if we can show them we are capable of implementing these policies on their behalf. However, we must ask them for that vote.

Conference, today I have set out a new vision for our party. A new vision on how we can create better politics. How we can build a fairer economy built on the peoples principles of no one being left behind. And how we can create a New SDLP built on our proud legacy but looking to a new generation who can – and will – make NI a better place

Together if we do all this we can restore people’s faith in politics and get Government working again.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • aor26

    Dolores Kelly said in her speech on the failing of the executive than The other outfit (Sinn Fein) is even worse (than the DUP)

    So the more ‘moderate’ nationalist party as it is commonly referred in our media and widely perceived as such by it’s members and voters perceives Sinn fein as ”worse” than the D.U.P.

    That one sentence captures well why the S.D.L.P have lost so much ground to S.F over the last decade and more.

    How many nationalists agree with Dolores ?? A minority of nationalists

    Who are the S.D.L.P primarily appealing to for votes ?? nationalists

    Who do most nationalists vote for ?? Sinn Fein

    Whose voters are more likely to transfer their votes to S.D.L.P candidates, Sinn Fein voters or DUP voters ?? Sinn Fein voters

    Except the S.D.L.P deputy leader perceives Sinn Fein as worse than the D.U.P!!!!!

  • Bryan Magee

    Alasdair McDonnell has grown in stature and sureness of touch.
    There are other leaders potentially than Nicola Mallon. Quite a few actually. But it seems to me that Alasdair has steadied the ship and he has an organizational plan that is putting proper structures in. Expect SDLP to hold its 3 seats, make substantial progress in Newry Armagh, and in west Tyrone and fst

  • Zeno3

    I don’t have time to read all of that but just have to know……… Was the lighting ok?

  • notimetoshine

    The SDLP have one option to grow and survive and that’s going into vigorous aggressive opposition. Whether they have theskill and courage to do so as an organisation is a different matter. They can’t truly call any executive to account while they are part of it.

    And its very clear that the SDLP need a large injection of fresh blood; younger, more aggressive and more innovative.

  • Bryan Magee

    The SDLP does have a lot of fresh blood to be fair.

    Just going into opposition is no panacea. Remember that SF and DuP did not need to go into opposition when they were minor parties.

  • They spent ages yesterday making sure it wouldn’t blind anyone and fiddling with the settings was verbotten.

    However, was the lighting ok? No. It was dull, and the set look flared as the ground-level spotlights were very harsh. Needed to hang lights from a gantry like the UUP did in the same room … the TV pictures and even my stills from the back of the hall really suffer from the dullness and lack of uniform brightness. But that wasn’t what you asked!

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Jim Alasdair McDonnell-” Won’t be based on Sectarian selfless interests ”

    Alastair swears allegiance to the Anti Catholic Crown-he is more sectarian than Jonny mad dog Adair-

  • notimetoshine

    I suppose it is more perception with me than anything else in terms of the face of the SDLP. Of course going into opposition is risky but at the moment they simply help support an incompetent govern!ent where they have little say simple for what appears to be the prestige of having a minister. Also your point on sfdup I am not sure is wholly relevant to today’s political situation. The SDLP is not a minor party (yet), the political landscape has changed, talk of official opposition is growing and the assembly and executive have now had several years to develop a disastrous track record in governance and legislation.

    Also for me I think the SDLP should be in opposition on moral and ethical terms not just as a party political trick to help them with the electorate. They shouldn’t be propping up a dysfunctional and undemocratic gpvrrnment.

  • Comrade Stalin

    “establishment of an SDLP Think Tank to develop an in-depth analysis, proposals and a roadmap to progress the case for an Agreed Ireland that would command the necessary consent for constitutional change in the future”


  • Comrade Stalin

    Alasdair McDonnell has grown in stature and sureness of touch.

    I’m reading the highlights of his speech here and on the media. His touch doesn’t seem very sure to me. “we’ll go into opposition in the future .. maybe”. Several accounts I read said that he fumbled the speech even though he was reading it from a script.

    Would it hurt too much for the man to crack a smile or make a joke ?

  • Ernekid

    Let’s compare and contrast this weekends party conferences. In Scotland you had the SNP conference. A massive exciting event. Thousands of new members. Great speeches, a new leader appointed and a Party set to dominate the Westminster elections. On this side of the North Channel you had this sorry display of a tired old party struggling to fill a minor ballroom with a leader who is totally uninspiring. The SDLP is really F—ed isn’t it?

  • belfastboy

    Is anyone else here still amazed that Alasdair McDonnell is a qualified doctor? Everytime I see this guy speak in public, I wonder to myself how on Earth he muddled through a medical degree. I mean, he seems to utterly lack the attributes of your typical medical student e.g. a confident, bright personality; a quickness of thought and the ability to express oneself clearly and concisely etc.

    Maybe back in his student days McDonnell did fit the mold of a typical medical student. But, for now, he comes across as a dour, grumpy, old-fashioned farmer, more comfortable grunting about the kilo price of lamb in the company of similarly inarticulate farmers.

    As party leaders go, he is utterly appalling when it comes to making speeches. And he is still extremely uncomfortable viewing in one-to-one interviews.

    In short, McDonnell – in public, at least – seems to be a charisma free zone.

    Long may he reign!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While I agree with the broad outline of your take on poor old Alaister, Belfastboy, I’m afraid I detect just a smidgen of “Farmerism” there! While some of my rural neighbours in the Glynnes could do with a “can do” transplant, especially those who have come to believe that the farm payments are a God given right to anyone owning land and something that will let them rent out conacre from armchairs, pretending to be eighteenth century Planter landlords, while troughing from the state, there are other bright, hardworking farmers who work up to twenty hours some days and re-invest their farm payments in developing their land with sensitivity and intelligence, labouring hard themselves and giving employment locally.

    So calling McDonnell a “Farmer” to suggest dullness and inarticulateness may work for you to give a quite vivid sense of the leader of the SDLP, but it is a kind of defamation to apply your take on him to all farmers! And he is far from unique amongst doctors…..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That’s tasteless Comrade! Expecting the man to make a joke at the long drawn out funeral of his party!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Alex Attwood is clearly one of the most comfortable communicators in the party.”

    But, alas, someone who while he may speak well, has considerable difficulty in actually hearing the comments of others. The torrent of local and international complaint Alex received over the high handed Runkerry decision where Alex seemed to be taking on the world seems to have been simply pushed off his desk. Rather than acquiring a reputation for strength and “decisiveness” in taking the decision against all professional advice, Alex simply gained a reputation for arrogance that his succeeding months in the ministerial post simply confirmed.

  • Bryan Magee

    Alasdair McDonnell does not have the CV of today’s career politian. He has spent his career mainly as a GP and there are no suggestions he was not a good one. He knows peoples problems from that job alone. One of the SDLPs main values is the NHS and Alasdair under stands the pressures on that as well as anyone. He has set out the values of the SDLP, which are to do with public services and education, as well as the justice and equality issues.

    He has emphasised the importance of the young people especially women coming up the ranks in the SDLP.

    He has taken an admirably strong stand on pacts and is clear on opposition. Especially strong given that some parties have been asking for pacts.

    He is not the varnished product of the career politician era, but he has built broad coalitions of pele that trust him, and in South Belfast he has shown that he understands about party organisation.

    When you consider some other politicians in NI he is honourable honest and trustworthy.

  • Bryan Magee

    He is a serious person. I respect that.

  • I’m in favour of the SDLP rigorously exploring the path into opposition. I voted in favour of an amendment that would encourage a more rigorous debate about opposition. But here’s a few things to consider.

    1. If the SDLP walks away from the Executive, what message does that send to the electorate at the next Assembly elections? Think it through. Because if opposition energises the electorate, and the SDLP win enough votes for two ministerial seats, the question then arises, should the SDLP enter back into the Executive? And if the party does, wouldn’t that seem a bit flip-floppy? And if it doesn’t, wouldn’t that be a bit odd? When does the SDLP say, okay, we’ve got enough votes now to reenter power-sharing?

    2. How does handing more power over to Sinn Féin and the DUP normalise politics in Northern Ireland? If you’re in favour of of the kind of SDLP vision of reconciliation; robust handling of the past, flags, and commemorations; pro-Europe, centre-left policies—what is to be gained by surrendering speaking time, influence, and financial support for staffing?

    I ask these questions almost self-reflectively because I agree: opposition could add distinction to the party, sends a message to the electorate that the time has come for change, and restores vigour to party purpose. But if we’re talking about opposition without proper structures, it has to be thought through really, really carefully.

  • Bryan Magee

    It is also a fact that when the DUP and SF were in the position the SDLP is in today, neither went into opposition yet both were able to grow.

  • Bryan Magee

    SInn Fein covered up the murder of Robert McCartney. To be fair, bad as the DUP are in terms of politics, it’s hard to sink as low as that.

  • Ernekid

    The DUP and Sinn Fein were able to grow because they had decent leadership, great strategy and political momentum against a deeply weak UUP and SDLP.

    The SDLP has none of these elements. McDonnell is not a good leader by any measurement. He’s weak and aloof and he’s doing a great job driving the party of the peace process into a brick wall.

    The SDLP has two options. Go into opposition or die. With McDonnell it looks like they’ll opt for the latter.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Alasdair’s udder ? The farming metaphors abound this morning. It’s also pretty clear Bryan that you are card carrying SDLP and McDonnel cheerleader. Unfortunately the great leader is perceived as a joke by the NI electorate, decent though he may be. I’ll chip in £5 for some long overdue media and speaking skills training. His party leader acceptance speech is burned into my brain.

  • Bryan Magee

    I am not in the SDLP. I just think he deserves some credit and so I will defend him against those who make man playing comments based seemingly on superficial criteria.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Seaan – but the sound of his voice!! When he speaks I hear nails being dragged down a blackboard. He talks and I want to slap him quiet. Sorry for the poorly assessed response but Alex = the sound car brake shoes make when they need replaced.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Fair enough Bryan, as is your right. But to lead a Party you need to be able to get your ideas across (communicate) and inspire through speech. Alasdair has demonstrated he can do neither.

  • Bryan Magee

    I just think that’s a misread of the position SDLP are in. And you can do a lot of opposition, perhaps more, from a position in the executive. I happen to believe there should be an opposition so that parties can take that up. But I don’t see it as the only way forward for the SDLP.

  • Bryan Magee

    I certainly agree he is not a polished or entertaining speaker. However he has a certain gravitas and seriousness, and a degree of strength of character, that makes me think he is trustworthy. He has been successful electorally in his South Belfast constituency and has understood how to appeal to a broad constituency. And he was clear in his opposition to electoral pacts. The election results show that getting the SDLP vote out is an important practical issue and his job is that come May that will be rectified.

  • babyface finlayson

    Having had his ministrations for many years, I’m not so sure. He completely missed my Munchausen’s Syndrome and I’ve been in and out of hospital ever since!
    Seriously though he was perfectly ok as a GP. Not great at communicating one to one, but they are all like that, I find.
    He is I’m sure a decent man but he lacks something as a leader, and is more suited to a deputy role I think.
    On the other hand, Alex is too longwinded for my liking.
    Conall McDevitt had potential but he got on his bike.

  • Ernekid

    Bryan what are the SDLP actually gaining from the Executive? The Environment Ministry is hardly one that actually impacts voters and it just looks like they are propping up a dysfunctional Executive with little impact of their own.

    You are defending McDonnell but I’m not sure on what grounds. He’s a very poor communicator. that speech was just terrible as far as conference speeches go.

    Theres no clear strategy, and theres no willingness to address the real problems within the Party they just attack SF without develop viable alternatives. I don’t mean to berate you. I’m a former SDLP supporter myself but I can see no reason to support the party now with this crap leadership

  • Bryan Magee

    I can be persuaded on opposition but it is not the be all and end all. Barton raises some valid issues.
    McDonnell has a certain gravitas trustworthiness and sureness of purpose. I like that he was so clear on electoral pacts yesterday and completely rejected those parties seeking to get SDLP to stand aside.

  • Bryan Magee

    I liked Alex’s seriousness. He wants to protect town centres and I admire his stance on that in the john Lewis issue. In general I have found his positions to be based on good evidence based judgements.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Bryan – I agree that I’m playing with perceptions rather than argued positions. However if the SDLP want to get elected then they need to address their inability to communicate, inspire etc. And the crazy thing is it’s not that difficult – some good media training would help them no end.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bryan, “He wants to protect town centres and I admire his stance on that in the john Lewis issue.” while I am all for traditions, the tradition of helping entrenched interests with their sandbags (Business Improvement Districts) is hardly one that should attract anyone’s support! The town centre regeneration is a far more complex project than the borinh g old “Build it and they will come” approach, which is all I’ve really detected from Alex’s period of absolute power. The level of his penetrating insight into what will regenerate town centres can be seen in one proposal: “Proposals to licence pavement cafés will assist the development of a café culture with the aim of encouraging visitors to spend longer in town centres.” Hey, in a country whose biggest single product is rain, and whose mean average temperture is a chilling 9ºC…….

    And you’d really need to unpack the John Lewis issue to even begin to make any sense here! Any argument against John Lewis having a presence in the Wee Six can also be applied to M&S, etc, etc. John Lewis would be far more of a real gain to the community than Debenham’s has been!

  • Bryan Magee

    I am not against john Lewis coming to Northern Ireland but I believe in a town centre first policy.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Walking out of the executive is not a strategy; it’s a tactic. The SDLP need a strategy.

    If the SDLP were given control over the devolved government tomorrow, can anyone name three pieces of (costed) legislation they would pass to improve life for ordinary people here ? (this is not a trick question)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But you, Bryan, agree with Alex’s stance on John Lewis……

    Town centre regeneration, yes, but this is a complex issue that should not be addressed with half baked ideas written down on the back of a cafe bill during a Mediterranean holiday. And about the incomprehensible Runkerry decision, in the light of the highly critical DOE report which Alex simply swatted aside, this decision is hardly the act of a responsible minister whose brief is to protect the environment! Alex’s executive decision, against all serious advice, to permit the development of the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa on our sole World Heritage site is a mark of someone whose ability to assess an entire picture in situations is seriously open to doubt.

    As FOEs James Orr said at the time:

    “Planning policies for that area are very clear – the landscape around the Giant’s Causeway should be protected, instead, a form of landscape trauma is being permitted at Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site. It’s like building a drive-through burger bar at the Taj Mahal. The precedent set today is that our planning system still cannot protect our most special places.”

    This Runkerry decision and the possibilities for future vandalism for which it has set a precedent is Alex’s real legacy from his period as Environment Minister.

  • Comrade Stalin

    He knows peoples problems from that job alone. One of the SDLPs main values is the NHS and Alasdair under stands the pressures on that as well as anyone.

    What pressures does Alasdair see on the NHS, and if the SDLP gained control of the Health Service what reforms would he push through to relieve them; and how would he pay for those changes ? And why didn’t he mention any of this in yesterday’s speech ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    This is the problem with people in this country. People judge politicians on their personality.

    Read back what you just read.

    Got gravitas.
    Strength of character
    Wins votes.

    All those things are great but they tell none of us what the SDLP’s vision for the future of the country is. Instead of getting ourselves in a lather of what a sound guy a politician is, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves “if I vote for this guy what changes is he going to make” ?

    The election results show that getting the SDLP vote out is an important practical issue and his job is that come May that will be rectified.

    He’s already failed at that once – he missed his own count for target seats. What’s he doing to rectify that ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d rather have an arrogant government minister who makes decisions than a wet blanket who tries to please everybody and ends up getting nothing done. +1 for Attwood on that front, and I don’t even like the man.

  • Morpheus

    What’s this sudden fascination with ‘opposition’? What could possibly be in it for the SDLP to leave an Executive where they at least have a voice to an opposition where they can moan all the want but it has no effect whatsoever? While we have tribal voting in Northern Ireland an end to power sharing would be disastrous and I’ll say it again, no one would be even considering the possibility if the numbers didn’t favor political unionism. On day one of ‘normal politics’ political unionism will form a coalition and from that day forward will bang the tribal tom-toms to ensure the other side never gets in no matter how badly they behave/perform. With demographics going the way they are going I would hate for us to introduce something now that ends cross-community support – something political unionism will be relying on in the not too distant future to protect their community. I think a better use of our time would be to ensure that mechanisms that are in place are used as intended and not abused as we are seeing more and more often.

    When it comes to the SDLP’s future then one thing is certain, less and less people are buying what they’re selling so they have 2 options:
    1. Tell the electorate exactly what they stand for and live or die on election day, basically balls out “this is us, come get us” and people will vote for them or they won’t. Or…
    2. Go out to the electorate and say “OK, what the hell DO you want then?” and then adapt/evolve the party to suit the needs of the electorate, basically “give the people what they want”

    I reluctantly favor option 2 as I can’t help but think about Henry Ford’s age old maxim that if he’d ask the people what they wanted then they would have asked for faster horses.

    I for one am sick and tired of politicians saying “what I am hearing on the doorsteps” and “when people come up to me on the street” all the while anyone listening is thinking “Rubbish, when was the last time you were on the street?” so in my humble opinion with the army of youthful volunteers I keep hearing about the SDLP need to get out and actually listen to the people on their doorsteps and give the people what they actually want and not what the SDLP thinks they want.

  • Ernekid

    You can have all the gravitas and sureness of purpose in the world Bryan but if you can’t translate that into votes then you’re on a political hiding to nowhere.

    It seems to me that the SDLP and the Labour Party have similar problems both have weak leaders who are a bit of a political liability. The problem is that nobody in either party wants to take the initiative and push out the leader and take over.
    The difference is that Ed Miliband is actually a guy who has political convictions he just doesn’t come across well on TV.
    I’ve no idea what McDonnell’s convictions are, He comes across as a grumpy grey old man leading a grumpy grey old party.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The SDLP have had several years to think it over and from the outside it looks like they are split down the middle on the issue. At one point the present deputy leader of the party called for entering opposition in public. Alasdair’s comments in his speech appear to be more designed to try to placate the oppositionistas so that they don’t go into open revolt, than to open up an internal debate on the subject.

    Actually I do think that handing over more power to SF and the DUP will normalise politics. They have a mandate to govern – let them govern. If they screw the country up, as an opposition your role is to provide an alternative government-in-waiting. Democracy works best when the politicians that people voted in are allowed to get on with it. People need to understand that their vote has consequences. It would also make Alliance’s position more challenging, as they would run the risk of being seen to be keeping these two muppets in power.

    An example I like to use is Dagenham council. A number of years back the BNP won a bunch of seats and took control of the council. Everybody got scared that this was the far right on the rise. Of course, being a bunch of knuckleheads, they totally messed up the administration of the council and at the next election they lost every single seat. lesson ? the electorate may take risks with idiots, but when they see the damage they’ll drop them like a hot brick.

    This is where the plan of those in the SDLP who are promoting opposition falls down. They haven’t said what they would do differently in power. Of course they’d be nicer and get along better, but that doesn’t give us much meat on the bone. It’s not enough to complain about DUP/SF corner huddles; the public need to know what you would do differently and how you would pay for it.

  • Bryan Magee

    On John Lewis there are a lot of city centre locations for it. It regularly develops in city centres (e.g. Oxford currently) so I think that his stand does not stop JL coming, and is good for Belfast city centre. Thus I agree with his stand.

    Though I personally suspect like you that Alex took the wrong decision on Runkerry (in my opinion) I don’t know if there are many ministers who would have blocked it.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    The DUP support the bombing and killing of Civilians in IRAQ today by the killer RAF- ( that’s not as low to you- are you wise )-

  • Bryan Magee

    Fair enough – I also am a fan of Ed Miliband so there is a pattern here 🙂

  • Bryan Magee

    Its a good point. I think the challenge to identify three discinct policy ideas is a good one,

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Expect the SDLP to hold its three seats but not to get more -( and you support them )- Lol

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hitler, Stalin (sorry!), Mao, Pol Pot, Tony Blair….need I go on. While wee Alex is hardly in the big boys league, there is a fulcrum between “arrogant” dictators drunk on power and “strong” ministers who actually listen to the people who put them where they are and act on unpopular measures where this will be for the common good! Never mistake simple decisiveness for actually making the correct decisions after careful, intelligent evaluation, Comrade!

    “Arrogant”: making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud from a sense of superiority, self-importance, or entitlement.

    “Strong”: especially able, competent, or powerful in a specific field or respect, of great moral power, firmness, or courage.

    I know which I’d prefer!

    And giving the green light to the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa while defying Unesco to do their worst, looks rather more like weakness in the face of pressure from powerful transnational financial interests from where I’m sitting.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Is this not what we are supposed to be offered from a party conference?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Have you read the report Alex rejected from Planning? The decision, bizarre enough, looks utterly indefensible in the light of what his own department was actually telling him. I posted a link at the time, but I can find it again if you need it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Emma Goldman might have something to say about this:

    “Our institutions and conditions rest upon deep-seated ideas. To change those conditions and at the same time leave the underlying ideas and values intact means only a superficial transformation, one that cannot be permanent or bring real betterment.”

    Its not just communication, its the SDLP’s encoded habits……

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Aargh…the horror.

  • chrisjones2

    Does that mean that covering up the murder of McCartney and Quinn and all the rapes was right or wrong?

  • chrisjones2

    But not as bad as Gerry!!!!

  • chrisjones2

    you mean you admire his stance against a store that’s notorious for offering value for money and choice, training itsb staff well and a clatter of Lisburn businesses that are desperate not to lose trade and notorious for high prices and low staff pay

  • chrisjones2

    Hes a subject of her majesty just like you are. And she graciously permits you to rant away complaining about it while you collect your allowances

    BTW do you keep the money or give it to the Party?

  • Bryan Magee

    I certainly don’t think – whatever one might say about the position the DUP took on that in the House of Commons – that that is as low as covering up the murder of Robert McCartney.

    One of these is a political position by elected politicians put forward in a debate and vote on the floor of the House of Commons, all recorded in Hansard, the other is a deliberate cover up of evidence and frustration of justice for Robert McCartney after he was murdered.

  • Bryan Magee

    I think a further Westminster seat would not be realistic for the SDLP. I am not very partisan so I do’t think “SDLP supporter” is something I would answer to. I am defending Alasdair McDonnell out of a sense of fairness to him – I personally don’t agree with the the criticisms levelled against him. I quite like him, for reasons I have stated. He seems honest/sincere in a refreshingly unvarnished way. Perhaps it is beause we are both from Co Antrim 🙂

  • Bryan Magee

    No – to be honest I am not going to read it so don’t post the link 🙂

  • Bryan Magee

    Yes – go read all the policy resolutions and amendments and I think you will find more than three.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Yes, but are they *distinct*? In both senses – distinct in meaning, ie easily understood; and distinct from the other parties, in that they offer a unique selling point?

  • Comrade Stalin

    It is utterly juvenile to compare a decisive government minister with a bloodthirsty dictator.

    I guess “arrogant” is probably the wrong word. A government minister does not need to make pretensions to superior importance – he already has superior importance by dint of being appointed.

  • chrisjones2

    They support the attacks on IS who are on a campaign of genocide against civilians.The RAF are not planting bombs in fish shops or hotels or under the cars of people because they disagree with their political views

    Perhaps you have been hanging around with Shinners for too long and your values or warped?

    Or as a SF / Member and supporter do you call the USAF killers in this as well?If not why not?

  • chrisjones2

    Beacsue in opposition you can ask the awkward questions you cant in the electorate.You can can expose.You can hold to account in a way that you cannot on the inside.

    The reasons for not doing it are

    1 its hard work
    2 it requires the intellect to do it
    3 you get less cash

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Have you ever come across the phrase “the nascissism of minor difference”? One mans bloody dictator is often another mans decisive government minister. And yes, ” “arrogant” is probably the wrong word.” if you are trying to make a serious case for the need for masterful action, but regarding the case you offer I can only think that “A government minister does not need to make pretensions to superior importance – he already has superior importance by dint of being appointed.” I can only hope you are firmly tongue in cheek! If you are actually being serious about the ministers at Stormont, then oh dear!

    Another Emma Goldman quote from 1911:

    “The average mind is slow in grasping a truth, but when the most thoroughly organized, centralized institution, maintained at an excessive national expense, has proven a complete social failure, the dullest must begin to question its right to exist. The time is past when we can be content with our social fabric merely because it is ‘ordained by divine right,’ or by the majesty of the law.”

    Do you really need strong masterful men to tell you how to live your life? I suppose some of us do. But then my training in Jungian psychology offers a few explanations for that…..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you chrisjones2, for reminding us all that John Lewis sets quite a standard for ethical behaviour to staff and customer, alongside high standards of service. I used to think that the political equivocation about their setting up business here was actually motivated by this being seen as a kind of unfair trading advantage……….

  • tmitch57

    When the DUP and SF were in the position that the SDLP is in today they weren’t in opposition because there was no Assembly meeting on a regular basis. But to be fair, they aren’t comparable because we don’t know if either party has peaked yet whereas the SDLP peaked in 1998 and has been on the way down ever since. Right now neither the DUP nor SF has any serious competition for the leadership of their respective ethnic camps.

  • tmitch57

    Alasdair’s leader speech seems to have been aimed at giving both of the two camps within his party something. He talked about making NI work, which was aimed at the “green Alliance” portion of the party and he talked about a New Ireland to satisfy the Irish unity portion. I agree that he has basically two real options: go into opposition or watch the party slowly continue to fade. Both the DUP and SF are ethnic grievance parties and their competition can’t realistically compete with them on that score. The option of opposition would likely be a very long one and numerically it would require partnership with at least one other medium-sized party: Alliance or the UUP. The UUP is even more muddled than the SDLP and seems content to merely survive by competing with the DUP for the loyalist vote as well as appealing to the UUP-traditionalist (nostalgia) voters. So the new leader of the SDLP would have to convince both camps in his own party of the need for an opposition role, then convince Alliance of this, and then together the two parties convince the two governments to tinker with the GFA framework to create a framework for an official opposition. That is a very tall order indeed. I don’t know the SDLP very well so I cannot judge if any of them are up to the task.

  • tmitch57

    See my above remark about what would be required to make opposition work.

  • Gopher

    Because The DUP and SF treat politics like the street fight it is whilst the SDLP treat it like an academic chess game. If your not prepared to show some fight you won’t motivate anyone to vote for you.

  • Bryan Magee

    First, most people when talking of going into opposition, talk of walking out of the Executive (which is open to any party unilaterally) without changing rules and structures to create an opposition role. You just adopt that role anyway. Will the media accept your role?

    Second, when you talk about what is needed to change the rules and create a specific opposition role I think you would need to convince both DUP and SF of the need for an opposition role, because I assume that this is something that needs cross-community consensus. I think this is achievable in talks, but it has not been a high priority until recently.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Bryan supports murders if the House of Commons says it’s legal –

  • notimetoshine

    Read it, quite interesting, but are the challenges surmountable? Indeed do sf/DUP want an opposition? Can the survive an opposition? I think the SDLP need to move I had hoped against hope for a uupsdlp opposition but with the UUP grasping at straws in their attempt to outloyal the DUP I doubt it.

  • Morpheus

    There’s nothing there that they can’t do from the Executive…in fact they can do all that better from inside the tent

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Comrade, more problems I see with the precise meaning of words!!! “Gravitas”, “strength of character”, “trustworthy” all refer to the moral character of someone rather than the personality which is pretty much morally neutral. If I were ever to think of voting (unlikely) I’d judge “if I vote for this guy what changes is he going to make”? on his character, which would confirm for me that he actually might honestly stand behind a policy, where his engaging (or otherwise) personality would tell me nothing of the sort. It’s not simply a matter of a party presenting great policies to the public, its a matter of the members of that party being reliable enough, trustworthy enough, to actually carry them through.

  • chrisjones2

    You misunderstand how the Executive woirks. Its controlled by SF and the DUp, If they dont approve iussues they cannot be discused

  • chrisjones2

    If you want to get picky thjey need a VIsion of where they want to be at end of next mandate, a strategy to get there and tactics to deliver that

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Comrade, looking at my post this morning, I note that my habitual levity has perhaps obscured the most important point I was wanting to make. When we use the blanket term “SDLP” everything that we are actually speaking about is simply a group of human beings with a particular agreement to act together, everything else is a reification! The SDLP in itself is an abstraction that cannot think or act save through the minds and volitions of these individuals. These individuals characters are the very substance of the SDLP and any analysis that tries to ignore this simple fact will be distorted at its source. In this context criticising voters for taking the character of their politicians into account first and foremost is asking them to shift their attention to dead abstractions and ignore substance.

    I think this is an important qualification, especially as your (“featured”) post makes the very important point that we should be alerted to what the SDLP actually stands for, but it should never drop from our attention that what the SDLP stands for is what the individuals making up the party stand for, and how we must judge this must be carefully measured against the moral character of each of them.

  • Stan McGlone

    Michael is a ceasefire shinner. Looking over my copy of Tyrones Struggle last night. Which happens to cover where he works and not one mention of him and according to actual IRA members who comment on here so forth, he was not even involved with the struggle.
    I have had help from SF and friends with a few members, they are a decent party but the baggage from McCartney and now the rape cases is making me wonder if I will ever vote for them.
    The SDLP are over.

  • Stan McGlone

    On the bright side of his dull character,we should be grateful that he does not start every sentence like Billy Hutchinson with ” Well I hink”. Billy is an awful speaker.