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By Stephen Hare. Introduction to the Party Some see the SDLP as first and foremost a party now representing Catholic middle class interests, with voters.

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Presentation on theme: "By Stephen Hare. Introduction to the Party Some see the SDLP as first and foremost a party now representing Catholic middle class interests, with voters."— Presentation transcript:

1 By Stephen Hare

2 Introduction to the Party Some see the SDLP as first and foremost a party now representing Catholic middle class interests, with voters concentrated in rural areas and the professional classes, rather than a vehicle for Irish nationalism. The SDLP's vision is a reconciled people living in a united, just and prosperous new Ireland. They use the slogan ‘A better way to a better Northern Ireland.’ In 2011, the SDLP returned 14 MLAs to the Northern Ireland Assembly They have 87 Councillors in Local Government. They currently have one Minister on the Executive, Mark H Durkan, who serves as Minister of Environment. They have 3 MPs in Westminster. The party conference in 2011 saw the election of a new party leader, with Dr Alasdair McDonnell taking the helm, supported by Dolores Kelly as Deputy Leader.

3 A Brief History of SDLP John Hume became Leader and Seamus Mallon, Deputy Leader The SDLP was born out of the civil rights movement in August 1970 when six Stormont MPs and one Senator joined together to form a new political party. The party's first leader was Gerry Fitt, with John Hume as his Deputy. Following Gerry Fitt’s resignation in 1979, John Hume became Leader and Seamus Mallon, Deputy Leader - positions they held for twenty-one years. In November 2001 Mark Durkan succeeded Mr Hume with Brid Rodgers as his deputy. The party was then led by Margaret Ritchie. She was replaced by Alistair McDonnell in completely opposed to all violenceagreement that addressed the three core sets of relationships; between Nationalists and Unionists in the North, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland Throughout the course of the past 40 years, the SDLP has never deviated from its core values. They have always stood completely opposed to all violence. They wanted an agreement that addressed the three core sets of relationships; between Nationalists and Unionists in the North, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland

4 John Hume –Saint or Sinner? The attempts made by John Hume in the 1980s/1990s to bring Sinn Féin in from the political wilderness and to encourage them to engage in the democratic political forum was seen by many as political suicide and so it proved. As Sinn Féin’s political influence grew, the SDLP’s waned. Hume widely regarded as the “thinker” behind many of the recent peace initiatives declared he did not care "two balls of roasted snow" about all the criticism he faced. There are 2 views: Hume knew what would happen and believed that sacrificing the SDLP to political obscurity was worth it for peace. Hume wanted to create a pan-Nationalist movement that would sweep aside the divided Unionist parties and lead more quickly to a united Ireland – He miscalculated the strength of the Republican movement and the political acumen of Gerry Adams that would never unite with the SDLP and failed. In a 2010 RTE poll Hume was voted as Ireland’s greatest ever person.

5 SDLP’s Response to the Good Friday Agreement The SDLP was a key player in the talks throughout the 1990s that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in John Hume won a Nobel Peace Prize that year with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in recognition of their efforts. As a result of the Agreement, elections to a new Northern Ireland Assembly were held in June 1998; the SDLP emerged as the second-largest party overall, and the largest nationalist party, with 24 out of 108 seats. The party was then returned to government later in the year when a power-sharing Executive was established for Northern Ireland. The SDLP took office alongside the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Sinn Féin, and the SDLP's Seamus Mallon became Deputy First Minister alongside the UUP's First Minister, David Trimble.

6 Party Policies Some examples of SDLP policies are as follows: united Ireland - The SDLP believes in a United Ireland. “We are the only party with the vision, the standing and the strategy to deliver unity.” Agriculture – Lots of ideas to help farming. Seen as their political base Want to scrap academic selection but no real ideas about how to do it. “The SDLP supports the decision to abolish the 11+ but Minister O'Dowd must introduce compromise proposals on a way forward.” Policing – many SDLP policies have been adopted including the Policing Board, the Police Ombudsman’s investigation into collusion and progress to a more representative service with an increase of Catholics in the police.

7 Electoral Performance The SDLP Party in 1998 received the most votes over any other party in Northern Ireland. They received 21.99% of votes which works out as 177,963 votes. There was a dramatic decrease in SDLP received 17 % of votes. There was a further decrease in votes in 2007; the party received 15.24%. The SDLP in 2011 won 14.2% of votes.

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9 SDLP Vote Analysis The SDLP vote share has dropped dramatically since 1998 as the graph shows. However, there remains a core of nationalist voters who remain faithful to the party and seem unwilling to adopt Sinn Féin because of its prior allegiance to the IRA. There is also a core of SDLP in the Derry area who have an historic link with the party through its leaders, Hume, Mallon and Durkan. Polling in the Westminster elections is higher than for the Assembly and local elections because Sinn Féin do not take their seats in the British Parliament and voters see a vote for Sinn Féin as a wasted vote.

10 Strengths of the SDLP They have a history of political corporation and are very willing to cooperate with all types of Unionists. They have developed links with Fianna Fail. They have 3 MPs in Westminster- Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonne[l and Margaret Ritchie. This gives them a political voice in Parliament and they are the main party in Westminster who are promoting Irish nationalism. A wide base of support among the middle-class. If the working class in Northern Ireland become alienated with politics, as they have in the rest of the UK and Ireland, the middle-class support of the SDLP may become more powerful. A tradition of promoting peace, even at the expense of themselves. This self- sacrifice might become important if voters move away from Sinn Féin.

11 Challenges for the SDLP Part 1 Some see the SDLP as first and foremost a party now representing Catholic middle class interests, with voters concentrated in rural areas and the professional classes, rather than a vehicle for Irish nationalism. The challenge for the SDLP is how they can appeal to a wider spectrum of Northern Ireland voters. While they are not a single purpose party, i.e. peace in Northern Ireland, they have achieved their primary aims. They must now come up with new meaningful policies that will engage voters. They have lost the centre ground of Northern Irish politics to Sinn Féin. The challenge for the SDLP is can they make themselves be seen as a party of government. They have little say in Westminster Parliament. The challenge remains can they keep Northern Ireland nationalism on the agenda in Westminster. The electoral fortunes since 1998 have continued to suffer. The problems for SDLP arose from the three M’s ‘too male, too middle class, too middle of the road’. The challenge is can they appeal to the working class, who traditionally turn out and vote in Northern Ireland elections. Also can they regain the 40,000+ middle class nationalist voters who have disengaged from politics.

12 Challenges for the SDLP Part 2 Fianna Fail are using the SDLP to combat the rise of Sinn Féin in the Republic. The challenge to the SDLP is can they use this association to further their own political ends. Recently they were hit by the resignation of Conall McDevitt following a political scandal. Seen by many as the future of the SDLP McDevitt’s resignation was another nail in the coffin of a party in rapid decline. The challenge is can the SDLP appeal to new young voters. Finally the SDLP has to decide whether it is worth going into opposition, losing short term political power to gain long term gains. THE RISK IS THE SDLP WILL CEASE TO EXIST AS A POLITICAL PARTY AS ITS VOTE DISAPPEARS TO SINN FÉIN


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