Belfast Telegraph

Time for SDLP to show courage

Editor's Viewpoint

The results of our opinion poll at the SDLP's party conference provide political food for thought. Just over a third of the party's activists want Dr Alasdair McDonnell to lead the SDLP into the next Assembly election.

Over half of those polled were in support of a relaxation of Northern Ireland's strict laws on abortion, and the conference passed a motion backing integrated education.

It is significant that a traditionally Catholic party has so many members at odds with the church's current attitude on these issues.

Just over a half of those polled were in favour of Irish unity, which is a low figure for a nationalist party, though this finding was offset by the fact that 50% were against a referendum taking place in the near future.

All of this would suggest that the Union is safe here for quite some time being.

Another significant finding was that 70% of those questioned at the SDLP conference would favour entering into opposition by the end of 2017.

This would be a dramatic move, but it is by no means inevitable because of the dissatisfaction at the way in which the major parties are carving up the Stormont business, and creating their own deadlock.

Perhaps the most important finding of the poll is the lack of confidence in the party's future with Dr McDonnell at the helm.

To his credit, he has stabilised a political ship that was leaking in confidence and impact, but all party leaders must be aware that they cannot go on for ever. Dr McDonnell needs to decide that he may have done all could to bring the party forward, and that he should move on.

Some of the findings of our poll highlight the range of fresher thinking within the SDLP, and this might also need a new figure to lead the party in a different direction.

In the Republic, there have been murmurings of a new relationship between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and although this may be overstated, perhaps a new wind is blowing there too.

The SDLP should take fresh heart, and with political courage it should re-assert itself, rather than trying to keep up with Sinn Fein.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph