— Irish News Politics (@politicsIN) January 10, 2015
Interesting story in the Irish News that the party will not fully ratify the Stormont House Agreement. The party has reservations about the silence of the agreement on issues such as the Bill of Rights and the Irish Language Act. In addition to this, while the party recognises progress on Welfare Reform it still wants to more done to protect those in need.
More in today’s edition of the Irish News…
The SDLP position on the Stormont House proposals was made clear when the negotiations concluded. The SDLP Party Executive and MLAs have both met since. That position remains.
There has been progress on some issues but the outcome is not comprehensive or decisive across all issues. The SDLP will work to protect and implement what is good and strong in Stormont House. We will also work to correct what is weak in Stormont House and make progress on the issues where Stormont House is far too silent, including a Bill of Rights, an Irish Language Act, a proper Civic Forum and to free up the potential of North South.
This is the only credible position to have. The people of Northern Ireland, who have been so let down, will see through any claim made by others that this is the ‘best agreement ever’.
The SDLP negotiated long and hard for a comprehensive agreement. This is the standard against which the SDLP judges Stormont House. We also believe it is the standard against which people across our community will judge Stormont House.
The SDLP acknowledges progress on the past but there is also a need for caution. The proposals lack the necessary detail to maximise confidence that any future measures will be all that is needed to ensure that the past is more fully addressed.
Critically, the need to properly assess policy patterns and themes has been further relegated from the standards of Eames Bradley and even those of Haass/O’Sullivan. The SDLP always warned that vested interests in state agencies and terror groups resist truth and accountability. On the issue of themes, the SDLP is deeply concerned that vested interests are getting their way.
The Parades Commission continues in place. It has served Northern Ireland well. It has been demonised for narrow reasons. The Stormont House proposals on parades lack any certainty both in terms of content and process. It is good that the commission remains. Stormont House now creates the means for others to continue to make mischief.
The SDLP has long held the line on welfare reform. While others told the SDLP to swallow hard and while others faltered on holding the line, the SDLP approach has now been vindicated. There is more money and more protections than before but the threat of much of welfare reform endures. That is why the SDLP will continue to seek protections for those in need.
This will have multiple dimensions. We will look to other parties to support our amendments to put additional protections in place in the Welfare Bill that will shortly come before the Assembly. We will also continue to make the argument in London, including with the Labour Party, not least in run down to the Westminster election and beyond, about the welfare needs of people in Northern Ireland. The SDLP will keep the campaign going, not least because the scale of what the Tories plan on welfare, if re-elected, carries grave risk to so many of our citizens.
The parties together made an argument to London for new monies to deal with budget gaps and our community’s needs. That argument has not been fully accepted and certainly not fully funded by London. Indeed, any monies that are available mean a lot of new borrowing and with continued demands from London to shape our public services in the image of Tory dogma. The SDLP campaign on budget will continue and will have a number of dimensions. This will include continuing to campaign to convince the London parties, not least the Labour Party with the forthcoming Westminster election, that our budget needs are different in Northern Ireland and this needs to be recognised in our block grant.
This approach will inform what the SDLP does in terms of the budget for next year, that will be the subject of debate in the next month, and the budgets of coming years. Many of the messages coming from the London Parties indicate that whatever parties form the next government, austerity will be part of their agenda. Given this and the failure of London in the Stormont House negotiations to fully recognise the needs of Northern Ireland, the SDLP will continue to fight the argument for the people of Northern Ireland. We’ll do it in next year’s budget and all the other budgets that come thereafter.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs