Belfast Telegraph

SDLP leader once again fails to face down Sinn Fein

By Malachi O'Doherty

The SDLP can at least not be accused of being pragmatic.

Faced with the decision on whether to vote for an adjournment of the Assembly at the behest of Peter Robinson, it gave him nothing.

And there was some point to that.

Robinson had put a gun at the head of the Executive.

He would have his adjournment, and if not that a suspension, and if not that his ministers would resign.

But you didn't have to agree with Robinson's tactic to see that an adjournment would be the least bad option. Taoiseach Enda Kenny saw it and pleaded with the SDLP to play along.

But Alasdair McDonnell chose to be the thick amadán again, imagining that he was defending the Executive by doing nothing to save it.

And you have to wonder why.

Politics in Northern Ireland is usually seen as the difficult management of a divided society, unionists on one side and nationalists on the other.

But the divisions within each of those communities have driven the current mayhem.

The Ulster Unionists exacerbated the crisis following the murder of Kevin McGuigan by pulling out of the Executive and making Peter Robinson's position in it almost untenable.

There was another course open; it was to accept that Sinn Fein was struggling to dissociate itself from the IRA but making an effort and to keep the pressure on them.

Instead the strife between unionists, constantly carping with each other, became almost the whole show.

Unionism looks like a dysfunctional family.

And nationalism is as bad.

The SDLP appears fixated on the need not to annoy Sinn Fein, despite the fact that like the two unionist parties, they are avid rivals. The SDLP has no viable political project other than to take seats away from Sinn Fein. This deference to Sinn Fein was all once explained within the logic of the peace process. The SDLP could not be seen to be jumping on the head of Sinn Fein while it was being kicked by other parties; not if it wanted to make space for republicans within political negotiations.

But that tender management of the roughneck relatives in the wider nationalist family surely has to end sometime.

And it must seem particularly galling for the Taoiseach to find that the SDLP would align itself with Sinn Fein to block an adjournment, at the risk of a suspension, rather than with the Irish government, which might presume to have some seniority among nationalists on the island.

The SDLP did not create this mess. Sinn Fein has responsibility to disown the IRA. Robinson dug in too deep against the Ulster Unionists when some space for compromise might have been found.

But the SDLP sailed smugly through this whole mess, trailing after Sinn Fein just as it has done over welfare reform, as if consequences were unimportant.

Politicians? Well, they used to have some in the party.

Belfast Telegraph


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