SDLP must keep distance from Fianna Fail (Irish News)

Conall McDevitt provides his thoughts on a mooted merger between the SDLP and Fianna Fail:

The SDLP must keep its distance from Fianna Fail
OPINION: Conall McDevitt (Irish News)

I have read the article in the Irish News (December 4) about the call from Jonathan Stephenson, the former SDLP chairman, for an SDLP-Fianna Fail merger.

I disagree fundamentally with him.

The SDLP is the party of the new Ireland.

It was founded by those who wanted to put the tired politics of the old Nationalist Party and the other dinosaurs of northern politics behind them and remould a new north and a new Ireland on the principles of social democracy and consent.

The party’s record to date has been hugely successful.

Indeed this is the first election the SDLP failed to win in its entire history.

Should one defeat mean the end?

I don’t think so.

What it should mean is the modernisation of the SDLP in organisational and political terms to defend the progress to date and shape a future which is still uncertain.

I can understand why people in the north might feel a merger with Fianna Fail is the way forward.

But far away fields are always greener.

The fact is that the Fianna Fail project and the SDLP project could not be farther apart.

Fianna Fail stands for the old Ireland and the worst of the new one… for Brit bashing, big business and neo-liberal economics.

They are a populist party obsessed with power for power’s sake.

Just look at the latest budget in the south.

An extra 60,000 ordinary working class people will pay top rate tax because Fianna Fail can’t and won’t tax the new mega rich in Ireland.

In terms of ‘national policy’ Fianna Fail have not proved much better.

They opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, without which we would not have had the Good Friday Agreement and they shafted the SDLP in the run-up to the last elections in favour of Sinn Fein just as you would expect an unprincipled populist party to do.

They are the party of the prevailing wind.

I want to say to Jonathan – and other friends and colleagues in the SDLP – that the party and the project is worth more than a merger with Fianna Fail.

At the turn of the last century the left and the progressive politicians stood aside so as not to ‘split’ the country.

The rest is history.

In the coming years a debate about how and when the people of Ireland will be re-united will get underway.

The SDLP can and should lead that debate.

It has done more than any other party in reshaping Ireland and to surrender now to those who have simply followed would be a big mistake.

The SDLP must keep its distance from Fianna Fail.

What is needed now is leadership and vision – the SDLP can offer both.

What is also needed is a grand plan for our island 10 or 15 years from now.

The SDLP can and should lead that project.

Rather than simply organising on a 32-county basis what is needed is political thinking that transcends the border.

There is no such thinking at the moment.

You only need to look at Sinn Fein’s policies to see this.

MLAs talk out of one side of their mouths while the TDs talk out of the other.

It will take courage to open up debate on the new Ireland, north and south.

Most people in the Republic think they did their bit in voting for the Good Friday Agreement and just don’t want to know.

Raising issues about the implications of unity or the shape and ethos of a united Ireland will not be easy.

Yet that is what the SDLP should be doing in the months and years ahead.

In the mid-eighties the SDLP was not afraid to lead the debate at the New Ireland Forum and to seek the Anglo Irish Agreement.

It wasn’t afraid to disagree with fellow Irishmen and women, confident that in the fullness of time they would accept its analysis and arguments – as they did.

It’s time for the SDLP to think big and lead from the front.

The future of Ireland is not in our past and the future of the SDLP is not with Fianna Fail.

Conall McDevitt
Skerries, Co. Dublin

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