We need to talk about the strange death of the SDLP

We need to talk about the strange death of the SDLP SDLP leader Colum Eastwood celebrates his election in 2015 with former deputy leader Fearghal McKinney.

I wish some bright young writer – or some bright older writer, indeed – would produce a book on the theme of ‘The Strange Death of the SDLP’.

The collapse of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland is one of the major electoral events, surely, of 2017. It also seems to be one of the most unexplained – even ignored.

Apart from passing allusions, it is seldom the focus of analysis by political experts on the island of Ireland. And yet its annihilation at the polls – at the British general election – is hugely significant.

The SDLP was at one time the main, moderate political party in Northern Ireland for most Catholics. Yet at this year’s Westminster Election, it failed to win a single seat. This, in political terms, is total annihilation.


Why did it happen? How did it happen? Apart from some rather superficial points about ‘the squeezed middle’ in politics – the Unionist Party, too, has been outpaced by the fiercer Democratic Unionist Party – I haven’t seen any in-depth explanation and analysis.

Is there any truth in the allegation that the institutions of the Catholic church, so anxious to bring Sinn Fein on board with the peace movement, contributed to the SDLP’s demise, even if unwittingly?

Or, once John Hume was no longer well enough to be at the helm, did the party lack leadership?

I only ask these questions because I want to know: and when there are unanswered questions or an issue to be explained, that is the perfect opportunity for a writer who is in a position to do the research.

Certainly, the collapse of the SDLP has left a gaping vacancy in the House of Commons, where Northern Irish nationalists are now completely unrepresented. Surely this is a highly unjust democratic deficit – especially at the most important juncture of Westminster politics since 1940: the legislative terms to be formed around Brexit.


Sinn Féin has made it clear that their policy of abstaining from a British parliament is non-negotiable. Well, that’s their choice, and no one can force them to do otherwise.

Although it’s a strange throwback to 1921 when the Oath of Allegiance to the King was the main stumbling-block (and ultimate cause of Civil War) to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of that time: as the Oath of Allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II remains the principle objection for Sinn Fein at Westminster today.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that while Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom, a large section of its population – maybe 40% – is unrepresented in the Commons. Mainly because of the SDLP’s annihilation.

Please, someone, write a thorough, comprehensive, honest and accessible book about this important subject – now.

Away with the fairies

Danny Healey-Rae has again entered the national conversation of mirth with his talk of fairies possibly being a factor in the ruination of the roads. I wouldn’t care to joke about fairies. To our ancestors, they weren’t funny, sweet little creatures, but malevolent forces prompting bad luck, ill feeling and fractured relations. Away with them!


The public disapproves of adultery

Since we live in more permissive times, it might be imagined that the sixth commandment (seventh in the Anglican version) “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is taken more lightly.

And yet the case of Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, tends to show that the British public remains fairly judgemental of the couple for having an affair during Charles’s marriage to Diana.

A poll taken by ICM last week found that 51% of the people now want William to succeed as the next monarch, skipping Charles (and Camilla). Only 22% now support Charles.

More than two-thirds – 67% – are opposed to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwell, ever becoming queen.

The seasoned royal commentator Michael Thornton has written: “Many people recoil from the prospect of a woman who broke her own marriage vows and then assisted her next husband to break his, being crowned and anointed in Westminster Abbey as ‘a great example of virtue and piety, and a blessing to the kingdom’…

“Camilla wilfully persisted in an adulterous liaison which she knew perfectly well could only result in the destruction of another woman’s marriage.” Charles, for his part, says Thornton, “ruined the life of an innocent young girl by marrying her with a lie on his lips, and without telling her he had a married mistress he had no intention of giving up.”

Some would consider this a harsh judgement. Some would say that “love is all you need” and if Charles and Camilla love one another (which seems to be the case), their affair was justified.

And yet, permissive age or not, it still seems that the public doesn’t admire the betrayal involved in adultery, and doesn’t easily forgive its disclosure.