Belfast Telegraph

SDLP left to lick its wounds after being wiped out at Westminster

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein's ongoing electoral success will be seen as vindication of Martin McGuinness's decision to pull the shutters down on Stormont.

Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill pulled off a repeat of their March Assembly victory. During the March poll, the party came within 1,200 first preference votes and one Assembly seat of the DUP.

The rise and rise of republicanism may also see Sinn Fein's focus increasingly shift from Belfast to Dublin, especially if serious negotiations on Brexit get under way in the next few weeks.

Nationalist opinion is looking increasingly to leadership across Ireland rather than to Britain, Mrs O'Neill pronounced yesterday in her verdict on Thursday's election.

But the battle within nationalism has one dramatic immediate impact at parliamentary level - there will be no Irish nationalist voice in the House of Commons.

The SDLP has been wiped out at Westminster level, while Sinn Fein's seven MPs will not take their seats.

Veteran SDLP figure Alban Maginness declared wearily that "politics in NI is dead, (it) has descended into sectarian mud-wrestling". There's no doubt Thursday and the early hours of Friday were a disaster for the party of John Hume and Seamus Mallon.

All three of its MPs, all former party leaders - Alasdair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie and Mark Durkan - lost their seats in the face of the Sinn Fein and DUP juggernauts.

Losing South Belfast back to unionism will be a particularly bitter blow after McDonnell's electoral high wire act of recent years, surviving on the lowest of vote shares. But it is also galling for such hard-working MPs as Durkan and Ritchie to be left looking on while their seats in Westminster are left vacant.

They had come to form a relatively effective parliamentary trio, with some unionists admitting Mrs Ritchie and Mr Durkan had a greater knowledge of Commons procedure and committees than they did.

Yesterday Mr Hume and his wife Pat paid a moving tribute to Mr Durkan as embodying "the politics of openness, integrity and trust".

The fact remains that Sinn Fein garnered a total of 238,915 votes against the SDLP's 95,419, increasing its share from the last Westminster battle by 5%, while its nationalist rival's share fell by more than 2%.

It has been a stormy 20 months for SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, plunged into election mode almost from day one, but his leadership appears to be under no immediate challenge.

The party may want time to lick its wounds and work on recovery, but Claire Hanna MLA was as upbeat as possible: "I don't think anyone can pin this on Colum. We can't spend the next few months gazing at our navels. We have lessons to learn about campaigning and getting our vote out that our competitors seem to do better."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph