Editorial from Irish Political Review, September 2002
When the Social Democratic and Labour Party was set up, there was no constitutional wing to the Republican movement. Sinn Fein was its legal expressionand there was no idea that it would enter either the Treatyite Dail or any devolved assembly with an illegitimate Northern Ireland State. The SDLP was described as a Constitutional party because, while seeking an end to the Constitution of Northern Ireland, it was prepared to work within its parameters. When Sinn Fein made its transition to using the given electoral systems, the Catholic community had a choice of two Constitutional parties. The Belfast Agreement underlined the development that had taken place in Catholic politics and gave all Constitutional parties a role in government.
the period when this new form of politics was developing there was a definite
role for the SDLP. It was given
concessions for the Catholic community by the British Government
in order to undercut Republican electoral support. That phase is now coming
to an end as Sinn Fein looks set fair to outstrip the SDLP, which is looking
for a new perspective with which to justify its existence to Catholic voters.
cannot outdo Sinn Fein on appeal to working class voters and there is not sufficient
electoral power in the rural constituency, which is often said to be its main
base, to keep it as the dominant party.
has the SDLP been able to cross the community divide. It claims to be a Socialist
party representative of both Protestants and Catholics, and as such, it is part
of the Socialist International. And it was on this basis that it has fought
off any thoughts by the Labour Parties of either Britain or Ireland of setting
up in Northern Ireland. The SDLP was unable to broaden is appeal to include
Protestant workers and it prevented the establishment of other parties which
might have done so, for fear that they would cut into its nationalist electoral
base. (Incidentally, the Sunday
Times reported in August as a definite fact that the Blair leadership
would be sponsoring a motion for Labour Party organisation in Northern Ireland
at this years Blackpool Conference in view of the massive support for
the project amongst Labour parliamentarians. We will be very surprised if this
happens: it looks like more of Kate Hoeys vague promises to keep her supporters
on board. Moreover, we cannot see that the unionist Labour Party to which she
is committed could appeal across the sectarian divide.)
difficulties have been further compounded by its implication in a Policing Board
with little actual power over policing, but which takes the blame for the shortcomings
of the Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland. Its membership
of that Board has prevented it from launching a vigorous agitation for effective
police action in combatting the street violence with which Unionism is trying
to undermine the political institutions of the Belfast Agreement.
It is in this context that Mark Durkan came up with a new nationalism which he thought could provide cross-community appeal. (We dealt with this proposal, in the context of Dennis Kennedys criticism of it, in the last issue of Northern Star.)
the well-meaning SDLP Leader and Deputy First Minister does not seem to appreciate
is that nationalism is an exclusive ideology or it is nothingit includes
in one direction, but if it does not exclude in another, it does not exist.
So, what is the New Nationalism directed against?
seems that he thinks he can act against the grain of the Two-Community-Politics
of the Belfast Agreementthat he and First Minister David Trimble jointly
can and should represent both of the Northern Ireland communities: and that
the new cross-community Nationalism thus generated will find continued expression
in the eventual united Ireland resulting from demographic change. The problem
with this is that David Trimble has different concerns: he is fighting a rearguard
action in defence of one of the Northern Ireland communities: he knows what
his is against.
Mark Durkans strategy has not and can not work out. If he is to salvage the SDLP at the next election, he is going to have to think again.
So Much For Mark Durkans Big Idea'.
Letter From The Irish News
By Councillor Mark Langhammer
Labour, Newtownabbey Borough Council
I TAKE issue with Denis Bradley (August 1) over his praise for the potential of Mark Durkan developing new nationalism as a big idea. When demographics finally produce the 50 per cent plus one required, the notion that the cross-community protections of the Good Friday Agreement should apply to a new united Ireland should concern us all.
I, for one, cannot think of anything worse! Under the agreement, a measure of devolved government operates on a federal basis. The devolved administration is not a power-sharing coalition operating with a protective weighted majority system. It is a federal arrangement between two formally designated communities two body politicswith virtually no movement between the two.
The mechanisms within the agreement to operate the federal system are the "designations" systemwhereby assembly members designate, in confessional fashion, their communal affiliationand the "parallel consent" voting system. Taken together, as the Alliance Party and Womens Coalition have now learned and understand, these mechanisms ensure that the votes of non designated "others" are worthless, and that non-communal voters are disenfranchised.
To design, from a blank page, a more discriminatory procedureor a procedure designed to bottle and freeze politics in sectarian formwould be hard to envisage. Heaven help us if this is the sort of protective measure to form the big idea" of new nationalism.
The best way to gradually reduce communal divisions within any new united Ireland will be the consistent and prolonged application of normal party politics. The gravitational effect of state powerof who governs and in whose interestremains the best hope of eroding sectarian division over one or two generations.
The Fianna Fail instinct for power will surely not allow swathes of northern territory to go uncontested for long. The currently tattered Fine Gael may regain purpose by openly acknowledging its West British instincts and developing a long-term relationship with Ulster Unionism. Labour, currently considering setting up a northern membership forum, will surely contest across the state. Sinn Fein, with its long-term view, will continue its march, while Green Party politics will have a northern constituency too.
What is difficult to envisage, however, is the purpose and role of the SDLP in a united Ireland. Perhaps Mark Durkans contribution to new nationalism will be to dissolve the SDLP in an orderly fashion within the mainstream of Irish party politics? Now, wouldnt that be a big idea?
(Letter in Irish News, 12.08.2002)
C O N T E N T S
And So To War . . .
Much For Mark Durkan's 'Big Idea'
(IN letter: Mark Langhammer)
Attack On Councillor"
Cor Tuathail: In Belfast By The Harbour.
Compiled by Pat Muldowney
Archive: Assassinating For Peace In Palestine And Ireland.
Demolitions & Deportations:
Daniel Corkery Summer School.
Julianne Herlihy reports
One Farmer, One Farm.
Thoughts On The General Election; Osama; Meanness; Neutrality; Hurling In Cork
COMMENT edited by Pat Maloney:
Neither Quinn Nor Nice!
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