- The values of the SDLP and its ability to command respect and at least second preference votes across the whole community are not something that should be lost. In the interests of achieving Irish unity, that respect is vital.
- The election was marked by a high level of tactical voting within the nationalist electorate, and indeed between nationalism and unionism. Many nationalist voters are willing to exercise their votes interchangeably between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. Equally it is clear that there remains solid support for what the SDLP stands for and that support is not going to change.
- Sinn Fein and the SDLP come from very different backgrounds. The SDLP has always been absolutely opposed to violence and believes that the IRA campaign held back the cause of Irish unity.
- The question now is what will best advance the interests of nationalist politics? I believe that a major realignment of northern nationalism is now called for, and I think that this means the formation of a new single nationalist party.
- I have discussed the proposition of a new single nationalist party with the grassroots SDLP membership in North Antrim, including the councillors, and it was very strongly supported.
- The statement which I issued earlier today entitled ‘O’Loan calls for formation of single nationalist party’ does not represent established party policy and I now wish to withdraw it. I do not wish to make any further comment on the matter.
First and absolutely foremost, this man’s record indicates that he is by no means whatsoever an advocate of Irish Unity. You may recall Sinn Féin’s recent criticism over SDLP MLA Thomas Burns being paid by the British Ministry of Defence – the same MoD that committed, endorsed and colluded in many atrocities on this island for countless years. Well, SDLP’s endorsement of the British Army did not just start there. Another example can be seen in November 2008 when Declan O’Loan came out to support a RIR parade in Ballymena. And again, this was not the first example of Mr. O’Loan’s support of British collusion. In August 2007, Mr. O’Loan openly criticised a campaign for truth over British collusion in atrocities in Ireland – the ‘March for Truth’ – when it had launched its black ribbon campaign. This included demand for truth over British collusion in such atrocities as the UDA murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. Do these actions really portray an Irishman advocating Irish unity principles and defending fellow Irishmen? Mr. O’Loan could not even bring himself to come out and condemn the death threats against his fellow Ballymena Councillor Monica Digney in 2006 when even the DUP councillors found themselves able to do so. It is well-known the abuse and sectarianism that Miss Digney receives on that Council, with unionists drumming on the table to drown out her voice for example, but Mr. O’Loan never shows any sort of support or ‘unity’ there. Moreover, when Miss. Digney tabled a motion, which many in the area felt was vital, to tackle Larne’s drug problem, O’Loan sided with the unionists in rejecting the motion. Now, let’s examine his recent statement itself. Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd evaluates this much better than I can. Mr. O’Dowd recognises further proof that Mr. O’Loan’s ‘concern’ for Irish Unity is hypocritical in the following statement:
"The telling part of Mr O'Loan's statement is the final paragraph. He is seeking a nationalist party for what he calls 'Northern Ireland' one which would maintain working relationships with parties in what he calls 'the south'. This exposes very starkly the partitionist mindset which Mr O'Loan and people like him are trapped in. The Irish nation does not stop at Dundalk or Aughnacloy. And neither should any nationalist party. Sinn Féin are an Irish Republican party, our vision of a united Ireland goes far beyond that partitionist vision as set out by Mr. O'Loan.”
Mr. O Dowd continues to identify the difference in the 6-county vision of the SDLP and the 32-county vision of Sinn Féin. I suggest that Mr. O’Loan ought to consider switching his vision from a 6-county perspective to that of a 32-county if he is to truly consider himself an advocate of Irish Unity.
Secondly, I would like you to consider this. In the recent elections in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone (F/ST) constituency, the SDLP refused to stand aside in order to combat the sectarian pact against Sinn Féin’s incumbent MP Michelle Gildernew. Sinn Féin were willing in turn to stand aside in South Belfast in order to maximise nationalist representation. The SDLP bluntly rejected this proposal, refusing even to meet for discussion over the situation. Nonetheless, Sinn Féin and their candidate Alex Maskey made the unilateral decision to stand aside in South Belfast anyway, reaffirming in my (and many others’) eyes their commitment to the nationalist people. Now, despite the SDLP’s, quite frankly, rude rebuke, Sinn Féin still managed to defeat the sectarian pact in F/ST, with the SDLP’s candidate Fergal McKinney performing awfully. This victory over sectarianism was partly thanks to F/ST voters who have previously voted SDLP recognising the need to combine the nationalist vote by voting for Michelle Gildernew. Consider all that alongside the fact that O’Loan’s recent comments (which defied his party’s policy) had actual support within the SDLP (including councillors Catherine McCambridge and Orla Black), and surely it can be suggested that, in fact, it is likely that there are those within the SDLP who, just as some of their traditional voters did, probably supported Sinn Féin’s position over the F/ST situation, despite whatever rhetoric was coming from the party press office.
My final consideration for you over this whole debacle, relates again to those, previously SDLP, voters in F/ST and to the support that Mr. O’Loan’s notion had within the SDLP. Now that SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie (‘the headmistress’ as she’s been dubbed to in the Blog Ulster’s Doomed) has stripped (‘spanked’ if you will...) Mr. O’Loan of the party whip one must consider first, what will be her reaction towards the defecting voters and O’Loan supporters, and second, what will be their reaction towards her? This is rhetorical, of course, as the headmistress will merely use O’Loan as a deterrent and ignore the voters entirely. I say this because while she ignored the F/ST failure, she similarly ignored the Republican voters in South Belfast who voted for her candidate. Indeed, her reaction towards South Belfast only enraged and insulted Republican voters there.
I hope before next year’s Assembly elections SDLP voters in all constituencies really look at the party and consider if it actually represents what they stand for. Or even consider what does the SDLP really stand for, with all the contrasting views.