The Lollipop Man
One Sunday during the recent election SDLP leader Mark Durkan went for a photo-shoot on the bridge between Strabane and Lifford. On another occasion he stopped traffic on a main road to be photographed as a lollipop man carrying a pole bearing the circular sign, ‘Stop The DUP’.
Anyway, Mark Durkan, accompanied by two TDs, one from Fianna Fail and the other from Fine Gael, symbolically used the bridge between County Tyrone and County Donegal to launch a policy paper on the SDLP’s new-found interest in the reunification of Ireland. It was only two years ago that in the Westminster general election the SDLP called Sinn Fein “backward” over its demands for Irish unity. It seems that we were all living in a “post-nationalist era”, though most of us had obviously slept through the time when Ireland was a nation once again.
That intellectual reasoning came from John Hume, Mark Durkan and Alex Attwood. It was a far cry from Hume’s emotional, but legitimate response after Bloody Sunday, “It’s a united Ireland – or nothing.”
That “post-nationalist” nonsense cost the SDLP dearly and certainly contributed to them coming in, albeit marginally, behind Sinn Fein. If the SDLP leadership believed in 2001 that we were living in a post-nationalist era, as happy and contented little Europeans, then why did it change its position in 2003?
For votes, of course! Except that its campaign was woeful, full of contradictions and stupid stunts, and all the way from Dublin they hired strategic advisors to sort out their “vote management” (hee, hee, hee!). And isn’t it ironic – though good for the Shankill - that the SDLP ran on a slogan that people should vote for it to keep the DUP from getting the last seat, yet it was transfers from Dr Joe Hendron that saw Diane Dodds elected over Sue Ramsay?
In emphasising a strategy for Irish unity the SDLP is attempting to copy Sinn Fein, which, for example, has consistently called for voting rights in Presidential elections to be extended to the North and for the right of northern elected representatives to sit in the South’s legislatures.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the history of the SDLP as seen from a republican perspective. About how it was able to advance from welcoming Brian Faulkner’s offer of the mere chair of various committees at Stormont in 1971, to demanding power sharing and an Irish dimension in 1973, solely because nationalist resistance and the IRA had improved its negotiating position.
During the conflict many people I know – former school friends, some neighbours and relatives – voted for the SDLP because there was no one else. Others, when Sinn Fein appeared on the electoral scene, voted for the SDLP for other reasons: they had major, moral problems with the continuing IRA struggle; or they despised republicans; or they had prospered within the Northern state. Their prejudices ran deep and were mirrored in the SDLP leadership.
A small but important and influential section of the SDLP didn’t give a damn about what went on in Castlereagh, Gough and Strand Road barracks. They paid lip service to condemning the violence of the state but were notably passionate when condemning the IRA. These types were the backbone behind the reactionary “peace people”. These types were always secretly talking to and meeting the RUC, but, more importantly and tragically, through not taking a strong enough nationalist stance they gave successive British governments grounds for thinking that republicans could be beaten and that an internal settlement was attainable.
I have little time for those in the SDLP moaning about having helped Sinn Fein only to lose to Sinn Fein, as if the SDLP were God’s chosen elected representatives. Firstly, the SDLP continually backstabbed John Hume for talking to Gerry Adams – or has Seamus Mallon forgotten? Secondly, Sinn Fein would have got to where it is anyway.
The electoral strategy was bound to take precedence once there was a military stalemate. And Sinn Fein – with all that energy, fervour and commitment, attuned to the community - was bound to overtake a party many of whose politicians have the appearance of opportunists. That perception has been reinforced even more with the current debate about the SDLP possibly merging with Fianna Fail, even just to stop Sinn Fein from claiming that it is the only all-Ireland party.
It is said of John Hume that he is not well. He often looks exhausted. One newspaper last week wrote about how open and honestly he has spoken about his bouts of depression. I am sure last week’s result when the SDLP fell from first place in the 1998 assembly elections into fourth place has not helped his condition. Yet, John Hume, who retired from the leadership of the SDLP two years ago as part of his withdrawal from politics, still intends running in the European elections next year as a less than sprightly sixty-seven-year-old.
He wouldn’t be putting it this way, but the truth is that he is running solely to spoil Sinn Fein’s chances, because John Hume knows that there would be no chance of the nationalist community replacing him with Mr Lollipop, lollipop, Oh lolli, lolli, lollipop…
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison