27 May 2010 Edition

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Mixed messages from confused party

The SDLP publicly aired its identity crisis again this week when North Antrim Assembly member, Declan O’Loan suggested forming a single nationalist party in the Six Counties but then withdrew it after criticism from other party members.
Declan O’Loan has since been suspended by the SDLP, after losing the party whip. There is speculation that he will not be reinstated until autumn.
In a press release on Monday, O’Loan said a major realignment of northern nationalism is called for and this means the formation of a new single nationalist party.
Commenting on the statement Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd said: “At times the mixed messages coming from the SDLP on the issue of maximising nationalist representation are completely confusing. During the recent election campaign Margaret Ritchie spurned talks on the issue and branded Sinn Fein efforts to broker co-operation as ‘sectarian politics’. Now Declan O’Loan is seeking a single nationalist party. I wonder what his party leader thinks of this?”
His party colleagues didn’t think much and three hours later O’Loan withdrew his original statement saying it did not represent established party policy.
In the recent Westminster elections the new SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, rejected the idea of uniting to prevent the politics of the past  and achieve full representation for all communities.
John O’Dowd analysed O’Loan’s statement further.
“The telling part of Mr O’Loan’s statement is the final paragraph,” he said. “He is seeking a nationalist party for what he calls ‘Northern Ireland’ one which would maintain working relationships with parties in what he calls ‘the south’. This exposes very starkly the partitionist mindset which Mr O’Loan and people like him are trapped in. The Irish nation does not stop at Dundalk or Aughnacloy. And neither should any nationalist party. Sinn Féin are an Irish Republican party, our vision of a united Ireland goes far beyond that partitionist vision as set out by Mr. O’Loan.
“The logic of the Good Friday Agreement is very clear. More powers in Ireland and more all-Ireland harmonisation. Any party truly claiming to be nationalist or republican needs to demonstrate this through their organisation. Meek acceptance of a six county arrangement is the trade mark of the old nationalist party and more recently of the SDLP. That is not ground onto which any republican will be going on to and it is the ground increasingly being abandoned by nationalists in the north. The future of politics on this island is 32 county and republican in vision and practice.”

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