Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

A mission to unite people and prosper

The SDLP worked to consign violence to history and usher in power-sharing. Now it wants genuine reconciliation while building the economy, says Margaret Ritchie

The SDLP wants to build a Northern Ireland which is attractive to business, which looks after its sick and respects its older citizens: a north that is a great place to work and bring up a family. But how can we get there?

We believe we can only get there by uniting people and by building prosperity.

The central question in this election is, therefore, who has the ideas and the track record? Who is best placed to unite people and build prosperity? In my view, it is the SDLP.

We have shown how to reach out and embrace other traditions - bringing people together in a shared future.

I myself held 14 public meetings all across the north on how to go about, step-by-step, building that shared future.

The SDLP shared power before others would. We did so because, in a deeply divided society, it was clearly the right thing to do.

Partnership is in our DNA. You cannot say that of other parties. So we are best placed to unite people.

Take education. We do not have an easy, ready-made solution to the vexed issue of school transfer arrangements.

But look at why there is a stalemate in the Executive. There is one party saying "not-an-inch, no-change" and another party viewing it as an opportunity to wage war on the middle class and on grammar schools.

The SDLP would reframe this debate so that it simply addressed the central point, which is how to create a fair system for allocating places in over-subscribed schools.

We would unite people around the quest for a sensible solution. Most people want the same thing here - a transfer system that is fair and delivers for children. I believe the SDLP is best placed to unite people on this and many other issues.

We have also produced better ideas on how to build prosperity in the north, how to create jobs and build the economy.

Declan O'Loan and his colleagues deserve immense credit for the work they have done in this area. In the document Partnership and Economic Recovery, the SDLP produced the most comprehensive set of financial proposals ever produced by any political party in the north.

We showed how most of the £4bn cuts - waved through without a whimper by others - could be offset or otherwise mitigated. No other party can claim that.

We have also set out a robust economic strategy which identifies clear priorities in the short, medium and long term. We are the party of ideas, thinking ahead and finding new solutions.

And SDLP ministers have done really well in Government, too: I think that fact is widely acknowledged.

Housing has been a major success, because SDLP ministers put their heart and soul into the job.

We showed that, even with significant budget shortfalls, we were able to deliver record numbers of housing starts and bring in a record amount of private investment.

We also breathed new life into many towns and city centres across the north with our urban regeneration initiatives. And support for communities was distributed fairly, by objective criteria, without fear or favour.

I think people genuinely recognise that an Executive with more SDLP ministers would be a better Executive for Northern Ireland.

I sense, also, that people are ready to put the SDLP back at the heart of Government, but they also want to see party renewal. I can assure them that SDLP renewal is indeed under way.

In this election, we have more candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds than any other party and, in particular, more young candidates than ever before. The SDLP continues on its historic mission. For years we worked to convince nationalists that violence could not be any part of the answer to our problems.

At the same time, we worked to convince unionists that power-sharing must be part of the answer. That part of our mission is now accomplished. The next step is to achieve genuine reconciliation and unity while raising the living standards of our people by growing our economy.

That is why the SDLP mission in this election is Uniting People and Building Prosperity.

We have the record of delivery, the platform for change and a team of candidates with a real blend of experience, energy and imagination.

We are honest about the challenges we all face, but at the same time brimming over with ideas to make government work better.

With your support, we promise to unite people and build prosperity. And to deliver better government for you and your family.

Vote SDLP on May 5.

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