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12 February 1998 Edition

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Same old SDLP analysis

By Mary Nelis

If you listen to Hume and Mallon this week you could be forgiven for believing that the conflict in Ireland was nothing more than a quarrel between neighbours, devoid of any external interference, which could be resolved through a process of negotiation and agreement.

The SDLP argue that such a process would lead to the creation of structures, in this case a Stormont-style assembly, which would operate on the basis of consensus, therefore preventing one neighbour from imposing its views on the other.

In simplistic terms, the SDLP views both neighbours as being in the wrong. Sean Farren takes the argument one step further by stating that this attempt at conflict resolution will operate on a power-sharing basis, which will lead to the beginning of new relationships based on mutual respect.

It is amazing that 25 years since their inception the SDLP continues to define the conflict in terms of community relations. ``How we are to share this island between us?'' is the familiar cliche. This disingenuous effort by the SDLP to absolve Britain of any blame for events on this island reinforces the concept used successfully by Foreign Office personnel of a religious war with the British Government as the honest broker trying to sort it out.

John Hume tells us ad nauseam to leave the past behind and build a new future together - which all right thinking people want to do. But we cannot leave the past behind when the ``honest broker'' continues to claim sovereignty over six counties of our island.

The British claim contained in the Government of Ireland act 1922 and regurgitated after the prorogue of Storment in the 1973 NI Constitutional Act, is at the heart of the conflict and is the root cause of the divisions between the people of the Six Counties and the divisions between the partitioned north and the rest of Ireland.

The result of partition and the British claim is manifested in the structural apartheid of the north and the refusal by the British Government over fifty years to address the sectarian racist ethos of those charged with its political administration.

The hopes of the nationalist people within the north to reach a just and workable accommodation with their unionist neighbours has not been subverted by Sinn Fein, as Sean Farren sanctimoniously proclaims, but by the British Government's refusal to rebuke its wayward child, whose antics in the big house, Stormont, became the envy of every tyrannical regime in the world.

The SDLP continually seeks to downplay the role of the third party in the bed chamber, but they would do well to remenber that no marriage of the peoples of this island will be consumated until the British remove themselves entirely.

Moving from the bedroom to the ante-chamber will not encourage the parties to even seek a new beginning. To state that Sinn Fein's opposition to a renewal of Stormont, whatever way it is structured, is a betrayal of nationalist hopes only reflects the sterilty of the SDLP political analysis.

Does Seamus Mallon seriously expect the nationalist people, notwithstanding a Bill of Rights, to accept that a power-sharing arrangement in a revamped Stormont, will change the mindset of the unionists who, with few exceptions, are still enmeshed in the same sectarian and racist politics.

One has only to read their response to the announcement of an enquiry into Bloody Sunday to wonder how such a party would ever support or give allegiance to the notion of equality. It is clear that they have learned nothing from the past. They have not moved beyond the sense of their superiority and supremacy.

Why should they? Their long cherished ambition for a return of their ``Protestant parliament for a Protestant people'' will soon be realised with the bonus of the imprimatur of the SDLP and An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Partition, the root cause of all political violence in Ireland will remain. If the Dublin Government proceeds with the constitutional change to Articles 2 and 3, with the agreement of the SDLP, that will indeed be the ultimate betrayal of nationalist hopes for peace, for it will represent the moral and political abandonment of the northern nationallist community.

The SDLP, like their unionist counterparts, have also learned nothing from the past, for in accepting the heads of agreement documents, even as a basis for negotiation, they have accepted that the nationalist people of the north, whose democratic and national right to be part of the majority on this island, are once again to be sacrificed on the altar of British unionism.

Sean Farren accuses Sinn Fein of raking over past injustices. He fails to acknowledge that such injustices have not gone away. Perhaps he was on vacation when those with whom he wishes to share power were dancing, sash-clad, down the Garvaghy Road. Or perhaps he was so engrossed in helping Trimble try on the old hat with new feathers that he failed to notice that the British Government are already chickening out.

The heads of agreement document proposes an internal settlement, couched in ambiguous language to make it politically acceptable to the SDLP. They have already chickened out on the New Ireland Forum, The Anglo Irish Agreement, The Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document. Remember the .Rent and Rates Strike!
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