Tuesday, September 02, 2008

SDLP Must Stand Firm On Policing And Justice

For several years now, the SDLP has been playing the role of responsible bridesmaid in northern politics. When the IRA was still playing its grubby games and Sinn Féin was still unsure whether democratic politics was the way forward, the SDLP refused to form an administration sans-provos. After all, the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement was to promote inclusiveness and respect the mandate of parties.

Even now, the SDLP appears reticent to rock the boat too much over the obscene incompetence of the two biggest parties, lest it could hasten the collapse of the devolved administration.

However, recent developments regarding the devolution of policing and justice have shown that the dysfunctional DUP/ Sinn Féin axis at Stormont doesn’t quite have the same commitment to respecting the rights of voters as the SDLP has had.

They ‘generously’ said that neither of them would aim to take control of a would-be policing and justice ministry. That’s all very well, but they aren’t entitled to another Minister in the Executive anyway. It’s the SDLP which is next in line under d’Hondt for an Executive post. However, the axis is attempting to deny the SDLP its right, instead apparantly aiming to hand the post to the Alliance, a party with so few seats that it is not entitled a Ministry under the rules that govern the allocation of Executive positions.

I suppose people shouldn’t be surprised. After all, of the four current Executive parties, the two concocting this exemplary display of latter-day gerrymandering are also the ones who did not campaign in favour of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. At least they're showing form.

To be fair to the DUP, they never really supported the whole powersharing thing until they were the biggest party and could benefit from it. And even then it was just a megalomaniacal means to an end for them. They were ostensibly anti-GFA while the Ulster Unionists were trying to promote devolution and hardly covered themselves in glory with their behaviour over the issue, so their current actions are par for the course.

However, real censure must fall on Sinn Féin, that great ‘republican’ party, over their contrivance with the ‘Never Never, Never’ party to deny fellow nationalists their right to one of the most important positions of government there is.

What does it say about Sinn Féin’s credibility that they would seek to disenfranchise the 105,164 nationalist voters who gave the SDLP their Number 1 vote in March 2007, not to mention the tens-of-thousands of their own supporters who gave the SDLP high preferences?

Although the political hue of a party should have no part to play in whether it gets a Ministry- strength in the Assembly should dictate this- it shows how far Sinn Féin would go to deny a fellow nationalist party the policing and justice ministry that they would prefer to conspire with the DUP to hand it to the Alliance, a party which has campaigned on a platform saying that it "supports the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. We know that this belief is shared by the overwhelming majority of our people and that provocative debate about it has been the primary cause of all our most fundamental troubles. The link is in the best economic and social interests of all the people of Northern Ireland."

Of course, the SDLP needn’t bother complaining unless they’re going to do something about it. For too long they’ve sat back and allowed the DUP and Sinn Féin to run rings around them, creating the not unfair impression among many people that they are weak, indecisive and lack purpose. Acts of strength and vision such as Margaret Ritchie’s handling of the CTI funding issue have become the exception rather than the rule. The SDLP cannot stake its reputation on isolated incidents like this alone to win the trust and support of the electorate.

I noticed that yesterday Mark Durkan came out with a strong statement saying that Sinn Féin "is guilty of abuse of power and old-style majority rule" over their handing of this issue and Alban Maginness has spoken about it previously. This needs to be cranked up tenfold.

The SDLP must adopt a strong position and fight tooth and nail to secure the policing and justice ministry. This is essential not only to secure its own interests as a party moving forward, but also to ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement remains alive and to send out a message to each and every one of those people who voted for the party that their support was not in vain. If the SDLP is seen to be weak on this issue, regardless of whether it actually gets the ministry in the end when all is said and done, it can kiss goodbye to the idea of playing any significant role in the future governance of the north.

No doubt the axis will use all manner of verbal smokescreens to justify trying to shaft the SDLP out of its democratic right. That is why the SDLP must stand firm and insist that it gets what it is entitled to.

No case can be made that policing and justice should be treated differently from the other ministries and therefore shouldn’t be allocated by d’Hondt- such a move would be tantamount to an admission that the four main parties aren’t fit to govern, which is an affront to the vast majority of the electorate of the north who voted for them. It would also destroy any notion that shared government is possible.

By handing a ministry to a party which is not entitled to have one, the whole premise of shared government is destroyed. Chipping away at such a fundamental base upon which government here rests will result in the whole devolved structure collapsing like a house of cards. It cannot be justified in the slightest and any 'excuses' given by the axis will have simply been concocted in their own minds for the purposes of denying the SDLP its rightful role. This must be opposed in the strongest possible terms.

The time has come for the SDLP to step up to the mark. It must stand firm in defence of its rights and the rights of its voters. The SDLP must send out a clear message to other parties and to the public that it will no longer be cast aside and will take whatever measures are necessary to provide the best alternative for the people of the north.


Anonymous said...

well said El Mat -it is about time this was said - will someone please email this to Mark Durkan and rhe SDLP leadership and their press/publicity office - the supporters of the SDLP are demanding that the political cudgel is taken up and the SDLP get a bit of clout about them

Safiyaoutlines said...

Agreed. The SDLP are a vital voice of reason and are fundamentally a bunch of decent people, which is more then I can say for those other two bunch of acronyms.

bill said...

The four main parties AREN'T fit to govern!

beano said...

Jesus, you're really perfecting this victimhood mentality here El Mat. Quite depressing. If Alliance won't take it, and I don't see why they should, I would have tended towards the SDLP being the best choice, but all this whining is starting to put me off.

I don't believe there was ever any commitment to share the P&J ministry/ministries under your beloved d'Hondt.

TBH I'd just be happier if they never devolved it at all. And maybe started un-devolving some of the stuff we have.

Anonymous said...

Beano - demanding your rights to a political job is not whining if this as happening to SF they would be blocking roads and posturing up at Stormont, London and Dublin far from whining the SDLP is remarkably quiet about it - and therein lies the problem!

beano said...

You're right, anon. What we need is more people acting like SF. Ranting on about entitlement and rights and low on responsibilities and completely omitting inconvenient facts.

bill said...

Now THAT is starting to sound like REAL politics!

Anonymous said...

Yeah and the voters love it!