Yes Alasdair, the SDLP oppose republican criminality but is anybody listening?

Signs of life in the SDLP are an interesting sidebar in the great IRA structures  kerfuffle. Alasdair McDonnell has taken up the challenge to contradict the Guardian’s Henry  McDonald’s charge below in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, which is basically that the SDLP has played mini-me to Sinn Fein for far too long.

The SDLP may have stopped passively supporting the Sinn Fein line through those tortuous post-Good Friday Agreement negotiations, and the party is no longer perhaps the Shinners’ advert-adjuncts, but its inaction over what happened to Kevin McGuigan is evidence that it remains strategically frozen in the peace process past.

Today SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell replies.

The only party that attempted to get the issue of organised crime into the Stormont House agenda was the SDLP. We have written correspondence with the Irish and British governments pointing to this, but we were resisted and rebuked for scaremongering.

We did not give up and were successful in February when we negotiated to the 11th hour on accountability measures to govern the ( London based ) National Crime Agency, allowing it to tackle the scourge of cross-border organised crime.

Sinn Fein continues to oppose its existence here, perhaps we now know why. The Chief Constable has told us now that this current incarnation of the IRA is not a terrorist or military organisation on a war footing, but has other elements.

The police have further questions to answer. What are those other elements? Are we being asked to turn a blind eye to PIRA’s criminality because it is murdering its own members or former members?

Were the guns used to murder Kevin McGuigan from the IRA’s old stock or fresh weapons smuggled in?

(Theresa Villiers)  has admitted knowing that the IRA has existed all along. What more does the Secretary of State know that she is not telling us about – what of the side deals, was PIRA allowed to retain its criminal assets, and why has it taken so long for criminal proceedings to begin against those charged with fuel laundering and property scams in Dundalk and Manchester?

These are all fair points but they have two limitations. One is that the SDLP’s street  knowledge should be at least as good as the NIO’s and arguably far better. McDonnell’s article argues on the surface of politics and shows little independent knowledge or insight into what is going on in the communities.What is being done  to offer alternatives to the republican ethos in the Markets for instance, and what is the SDLP doing to help create it?  This is worrying for a party that needs to build up its support all over again in many places.

Two, I predict that the political dividend that all other parties are frantically trying to create will in the end be small. The electoral system gives the SDLP and the UUP chance after chance to revive. As Henry says, we are in effect in the post peace process era but the parties have yet to rise to the challenge. This row is a coda, not a new theme . Other parties need to develop their own  causes and profile rather than merely grab a handy stick to beat Sinn Fein with . By now they should have learned not to underestimate Sinn Fein’s ability to absorb pressure.

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  • Catcher in the Rye

    The tactics used against the SDLP during the election in South Belfast on May just past were nothing short of despicable. The SDLP may well, in turn, have decided that now is the time to take the gloves off with respect to the Shinners.

  • Brian Walker

    Catcher, if only they would! What’s holding them back?, It would liven up politics a bit if the did. If they don’t the suspicion is that SF have little case to answer.. We’ve heard this so many times before

  • Nevin

    “they won’t countenance walking out of the five-party coalition and forming an effective, numerically strong opposition that could hold that Executive to account.” .. Henry McDonald

    Brian, are you really hanging your coat on such nonsense? Could 14 SDLP MLAs really hold the Executive to account? I don’t think so.

  • The Devil’s Advocate

    One MLA in the shape of Jim Allister does a pretty good job of holding them to account.

  • murdockp

    I would apply a simple hypothetical test here.

    If the Loyalists shot dead say 20 people in a single attack in any of the established republican communities, would an organised republican paramilitary group respond with the same?

    If you believe the answer to be ‘yes’ then simple common sense confirms that the IRA have not gone away. If you answer ‘no’ you probably still believe in the tooth fairy

    I suspect that neither the Loyalist or Republican paramilitary groups have gone away, given the same foot soldiers walk the streets with the same view of life I would imagine that the various paramilitary groups could be be brought back into use very quickly indeed.

    That said, the Irish Government have been very quick to forget that their origins were also the IRA. I suspect their anti Sinn Fein comments to date are more to do with gathering votes on home turf than any desire to get involved in NI politics.

  • chrisjones2

    Asking awkward questions can be both illuminating and powerful

    At the moment there is only one very effective but occasionally erratic bulb at Stormont

  • SDLP supporter

    Your last paragraph. The difference is that, following the
    setting up of the Free State, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael moved very quickly to
    separate themselves from Sinn Fein and the IRA. When he set up Fianna Fail in1926 De Valera explicitly broke with SF and shed crocodile tears about
    “leaving my comrades behind in the trenches”. A decade and a half
    later Dev was executing a few of his’former comrades’ during World War 11 when he (correctly) judged they werethreatening state security by collaborating with the Nazis.

    Cosgrave and his people quickly morphed into Cumann na
    nGael, then Fine Gael.

    Gerry Adams’s ‘cunning plan’, now coming unstuck, was to
    have it both ways: maintain Sinn Fein and have the kudos of claiming the dubiousbenefits of Provo IRA’s glorious struggle’.

    The big danger for Gerry is that, if the Northern Ireland Executive
    folds his dream of Sinn Fein in government in both jurisdictions by Easter 2016is in tatters and, ipso facto, his putative claim “we achieved a sort-of united Ireland”.

    I’d say that Adams is absolutely furious with Bobby S. and
    his ageing mates for dropping him in it over McGuigan.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well the SDLP stand in the Markets area … How many of the critics of the SDLP and SInn Féin do?

  • chrisjones2

    Sadly it looks like more of the same. Stoop down even lower lest we frighten the children by having any principles

    It is alleged that when Margaret Thatcher “retired” she was asked what she would do. Her response was ‘start a spine rental business’ The Stoops might be a customer

  • Kevin Breslin

    The majority of the victims of the 29 Omagh Bomb were Catholics,

    Why didn’t that spark a RIRA-PIRA feud?

    Why didn’t loyalists go after the dissidents in revenge for the Protestants or Unionists killed the way they did for Enniskillen.

    Most importantly why did Sinn Féin keep their West Tyrone seat?

    Dissidents are targeting Catholic areas as the loyalists did in the past.

    The Dissidents may as well be seen in the same contempt as Loyalists are in many republican communities.

    Please don’t use “sectarian relativism” as an argument to why paramilitary organisations should have to remain.

    Anyone can come up with an excuse to be a hostile ignorant git.

    At times like these we need more excuses not to be.

  • gendjinn

    The difference now is that the PSNI will not be wading into the Nationalists on behalf of Unionism the same way the RUC did. There won’t be a revolving door between the PSNI and Unionist terrorists as there was.

    This time around the PSNI will actually behave like a real police force and without state cover Unionist terrorists will not have the competence to carry out an extended sectarian murder campaign.

    The IRA is not needed and will not be needed again. So many people can only fight the last war.

  • paul david

    Highly overrated. Near twenty years after the GFA which he and the DUP oppsed, a road map to a united Ireland I think is how they decribed it, and he still only has one MLA, himself. Less than one percent at the assembly. And he calls Stormont a failure.
    Majority rule again and he’ll have to make friends with Gerry Adams to bring it about unless he thinks the British will rip up the GFA.
    A waste of a vote unless you hark back to the bad old days.

  • Steve Larson

    The SDLP, haven’t heard of them in a very long time.

    I don’t think they have what it takes at this stage to capitalize on a crisis in SF, no matter what that crisis is.

    It really is quite amazing that they have lasted so long while being so disorganized and hidden from view.

  • Steve Larson

    If Stormont folds then joint authority is the next step, the only step.

    Long term there is no harm to SF from this. People here in Dublin see it as all a bit of a fuss over nothing and the Govt and UUP playing electoral politics.

    If the SDLP fall in to line with the UUP and DUP hardliners once more and collapse the assembly they will not be thanked by the electorate.

  • barnshee

    Joint authority will die when the first Bill is presented

  • paul david

    Majority rule failed the troubles misery for everyone stormont a sticking plaster to cover the cracks.
    The British and Irish governments will do it if its the only option and unionists can’t stop it. An Anglo Irish agreement part II.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    In terms of the Executive and so on, the SDLP in their current form are essentially a participationist party (and Alliance are much the same). Their electorate want to see them in government and doing things, not walking out and allowing the thing to collapse. I think that’s a lot to do with why they are still in the Executive.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I’m not sure why people think that joint authority is likely.

    Do Sinn Féin really want to just sit here while Enda Kenny and David Cameron take turns to run NI ?

  • barnshee

    Until the bill is sent to dublin for the damage

  • SDLP supporter

    Breath-taking, Steve, so you are a bit like De Valera, when you want to know what the Irish people, or people in Dublin, currently feel, you just have to look into your own heart? At least, Dev could point to the votes he got as justification.

  • Steve Larson

    If there is no parliament in Belfast then it has to be joint rule.

    Going back to direct rule is not an option and one that even the Tories have no interest in.

    It would be viewed as a very large step back for the peace process.

    I couldn’t see why Sinn Féin would have a problem with joint authority while things were being sorted out in Belfast.

  • Steve Larson

    Not a hope. If there is no parliament in Stormont and Unionism is showing no willingness to return then I’d see joint authority being readily accepted by Dublin and London.

    Do you honestly believe that more than a handful of Tories would have a problem with it or that Labour would oppose it.

  • eireanne

    it wouldn’t be taking turns – it would be joint 24/7 365 days of the year for as long as needed

  • Steve Larson

    lol. What nonsense.

    If Stormont falls and Unionism is unwilling to play ball then power will revert to direct rule.

    That will not be acceptable to many.

    This whole “crisis” isn’t really a talking point here. People have been listening to so much over the past years, especially the Adams arrest, that they just presume it is a stunt.

    I blame the Sindo and Independent Group, they have been going on with the Shinners ate y hamster stories for 20 years. People are no longer listening.

    No one in politics here in Dublin believe that it will change one vote in an election. Some say it will garner sympathy for SF. FG/Lab. helping crash the peace process for electoral gain.

  • SDLP supporter

    Steve, do you grasp the point that Direct Rule is not the same as Joint Authority? In the former case the UK picks up the bill for NI (£16 billion annually), in the latter case the British and Irish governments go Dutch. It would wreck the Republic’s recovering economy.

  • Croiteir

    There is no evidence for that – the PSNI/RUC, (they didn’t go away you know), still seem to have a deference for the loyalist killer gangs. Can you recall any moves on them recently on the same level as against republicans? I can’t.

  • Croiteir

    Joint authority not enough – joint sovereignty is a minimum for the establishment of a peaceful future

  • Croiteir

    You assume that the tax regime will remain as is, if the south is to take its share of the pain it will also get a say in the gain

  • Tochais Siorai

    Going Dutch would involve some kind of joint sovereignty rather than joint authority which in reality, the latter exists to a degree at the minute.

  • gendjinn

    Oh it’s still a political tool of Westminster and yes, it’s too softly, softly with Unionist terrorists. We still need to clear out anyone with any involvement with RUC Special Branch – the entire lot of them were irredeemably corrupted by the counter-gang training they received from the Army.

    But the PSNI is no longer 99% Unionist it’s now 30% Catholic and 65% Protestant. They won’t be able to get away with collusion with Unionist terrorists this cycle as they did last time.

  • chrisjones2

    “Going back to direct rule is not an option ”

    Constitutionally its the default if Stormont collapses

  • chrisjones2

    What gain? You are dreaming. The law is clear>? No Stormont, London takes control

  • chrisjones2

    No….the UK doesn’t want to take over the Republic again. Sorry you will have to manage for yourselves

  • chrisjones2

    So you favour another cycle of murder then do you?

  • Croiteir

    Managing quite well in the south – better than the north has done.

  • Croiteir

    perhaps if I said tax receipts it may help your understanding of gains. perhaps not. If you share the loss you share the gain. Of course if London wants to shoulder all of this and see the ulsterisation process crumble then fair enough. It puts Dublin in a better position. Infuence without the attendant costs. Luvvly jubbly

  • Steve Larson

    It is not an option long term I meant.

  • chrisjones2

    Errr ……..the nett outflow from UK to Ireland id £9bn to £11bn. If the Irish want to pick up say half that i am sure George will be helpful

  • Croiteir

    I am sure he will when Dublin shares in the decisions that incur those costs, joint authority will include joint sovereignty if the British wish to extend it to cost and gain

  • gendjinn

    Now, now chris, we’ve talked before about you projecting your desires onto others.

  • chrisjones2

    That’s about €7000 per Irish Taxpayer / annum for the bung to the North. Mind you there can be savings by reducing the costs of healthcare and benefits and civil service salaries (mostly catholic these days) to the level in Ireland but then SF wont want that sort of Welfare Reform

    But i am sure voters north and south will be inspired by the vision to queue up to pay the costs / sacrifice the higher UK benefits

  • Croiteir

    I am sure that the greater benefits enjoyed by the South will offset the pain and the larger convergence in the taxation, (corpo tax anyone?), systems as the British cede their sovereignty would be welcome as at least nationalism will get a benefit instead of watching as more austerity will bite (need to cut civil service by 14% as in Britain just to stand still in comparison terms) or indeed cut the civil service to the needs of the region by centralising its functions to Dublin control thus ending the surplus wages and eating into the fiscal shortfall. I can see Dublin, London and the northern business community loving that. And of course allowing nortern companies access to the southern tax system cutting corpo tax in one fell swoop profiting both northern business and southern tax take. Plenty of ups in your suggestion Chris to make it a practical and affordable move for all. It can only end with more economic, fiscal and indeed social integration and a huge benefit to society. nationalists would love it but I cannot see the British going for it as basically they end up with the pain and little gain. They will want a clear sovereignty handover which can be priced and controlled by them

  • Steve Larson

    Most of Northern Ireland is a lot poorer than the Republic but it would quickly catch up once it was reintegrated.

    Joint authority an still happen without tax affairs being looked at.

  • barnshee

    The prods won`t have direct rule simple as that-how would it be enforced?

  • barnshee

    Of course to maintain parity/ mc bride principles/fair employment etc atc the job losses will fall entirely on the roman catholic community –
    In any UI -with an ROI component 97% roman catholic – some sort of parity can only remain if the prods keep their jobs and the roman catholics don`t. Looking forward to it.

  • Steve Larson

    It’ll be enforced as normal, it will just mean decision making at the top will be split between Dublin and London. Loyalist paramilitaries will be kept on a tight leash by their handlers.

    I doubt if Unionism would have a protest that 2,000 people would go to over it.

    I would relish the sight of Unionism trying to challenge it. It would really be the death knell for them.

    I think most of them will accept it, the Tories of today are different to the ones in the 80s. There is no attachment to Northern Ireland like before. With the Tories today there is hardly an attachment to Scotland and that is actually on the Island of Britain and was for a long time a Tory bastion.

  • Croiteir

    I am sure that the only employees in the civil service are Catholic. Just as you imply. However as you know the law states quite clearly that the profile of the catchment area is one of the benchmark used.

    Funnily enough I never thought of the religion of the employees or those who would make up the potential redunancies, I wonder why that would be foremost in a unionists mind?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Encouraging stuff from the SDLP. They have been missing a trick for years, in my view. Like the Kendall wing of the Labour Party thinking the way to compete with the Tories is to be Tory-lite, that’s kind of been the SDLP approach to SF. What is actually needed is an alternative narrative – and needs to be one that pulls no punches and takes the moral high ground, which is the SDLP’s to occupy.

    Part of the problem though for the SDLP is they have never really been forthright enough in apportioning as much of the blame for the continuance of the Troubles to the IRA. By making the Troubles seem like some kind of symmetrical ‘conflict’, they have endowed the IRA with a Teflon quality, as the latter can claim to have only been doing the dirty work that needed doing. Had they told it how it is and sided with moderate unionists a bit more publicly over terrorism instead of chasing green votes, SF might not have been able to dominate the nationalist narrative quite so much. I know there’s more to it and it’s about personnel and organisation too but even those aspects are surely also a product of the SDLP’s failure to stand up more inspiringly to the SF spin. They’ve shown them way too much respect for too long.

    But this latest piece is more like it.

  • paul david

    Why damage Dublin and not London? Theyre your masters afterall. It happens and they’ve sold you out not Dublin.
    If you think the Irish people are going to run from Irish unity because of loyalist thugs wrecking the place have the last 40 years not taught you anything.

  • Kev Hughes

    ‘Henry McDonald’s charge below in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, which is basically that the SDLP has played mini-me to Sinn Fein for far too long’

    I’m no fan of the SDLP but that’s BS. It’s called being a nationalist party, which they are, in the main.

    Anyway, they’ll get little dividend from going on the attack with SF For this because:

    1. Nationalists in general see this as an old provie shoots another old provie, not the RA coming back into existence or being in existence like they were 20 years ago.

    2. They won’t like seeing SF punished for sweet fa after the nonsense of Twadell, the Flegs and Robbo and TV Mike marching dickheads like Jamie Bryson up a hill and ruining Christmas.

    So no, it doesn’t matter a hill of beans if Alasdair says he’s against criminality. If he walks he’ll be called a Stoop, and rightly so.