Belfast Telegraph

SDLP 13 in Newry do the party a disservice

Editor's Viewpoint

From its foundation, the SDLP was a party vehemently opposed to republican violence. Unashamedly nationalist, it sought to change the political landscape through the force of argument and logic, enlisting the help of influential figures in the Republic, US and Europe to challenge the inequalities of life here.

Indeed, it was the architect of the peace process and the party that, to its own detriment, brought Sinn Fein in from the cold, thereby helping to end the conflict.

Given that background, it is disappointing that, as the SDLP's fortunes have waned, there has been an inclination in some areas for the party to align itself with Sinn Fein on various issues.

One example that continues to cause controversy and community division was the decision in 2001 by SDLP councillors to support Sinn Fein's call for a children's play park in Newry to be named after convicted terrorist and hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.

The party hierarchy clashed with local councillors in 2013 and 2015 when they voted to retain the name.

On Wednesday night, 13 SDLP councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council again dodged the issue by voting against a name change, instead going for an option that retains the name pending the outcome of a council play strategy that may see the park closed and the land handed over to a local community group.

That was an astonishing decision, because the party's policy unequivocally states that it does not support the naming of facilities in public ownership after anyone involved in the terrorism of the Troubles.

Little wonder unionists feel the party has let them down on this issue.

It is common knowledge that unionists have voted for the SDLP in some close battles with Sinn Fein and that there is a grudging goodwill towards the party because of its non-violent history.

Yesterday we reported on a young west Belfast man from an SDLP-supporting family who is now an Ulster Unionist Party councillor in Antrim and Newtownabbey and noted that his rare but encouraging political vision posed questions for unionism and nationalism on how to create an inclusive society.

This certainly panders less to the extremes than the letter signed by 200 people sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week, asking him to speak up for the rights of nationalists in Northern Ireland. And the SDLP decision in Newry.

Belfast Telegraph

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