Make Change Happen

23 02 2017


In exactly a weeks time, Thursday 2nd March, we go to the polls to elect a new Assembly.

After the collapse and abysmal failure of the ‘Fresh Start’ Government, this election offers the chance to change what has gone before.

This is your chance to give your verdict on the record of the outgoing Executive parties, and their lack of achievement.

You can give your verdict on the following  –

  • No Programme for Government
  • No Budget
  • No Health Budget
  • No Brexit plan
  • The RHI Scandal (BOTH Executive parties knew about the potential scale of impact on public finances before last year’s Assembly election but BOTH chose to stay silent at that time)
  • The NAMA Scandal
  • The Red Sky scandal
  • SIF funding of £millions to quangos fronted by senior loyalist paramilitaries
  • Abuse of the Petition of Concern mechanism
  • MLAs claiming inflated Office Rental Expenses (BBC Spotlight drew attention to the DUP Church St Office Ballymena, SF Dunloy Office amongst others)
  • Payments to  Research Companies (where no written evidence of any research was ever produced)
  • Welfare Powers returned to the Tories at Westminster (after months of grandstanding)
  • Introduction of the Bedroom Tax (mitigated to 2020)
  • Witness Coaching
  • Health Centres left without a GP
  • Increased Hospital Waiting Lists
  • No Mental Health Strategy
  • No Teachers Pay increase

Made your mind up yet ?

It can sometimes be hard to hope that change is possible in our politics – but change does and can come if we make it happen.

If you want to see that change – come out and vote for it.

On March 2nd – Make change happen.


SDLP Manifesto 2017 

6 laws that won’t be changed thanks to the Assembly collapse

26 01 2017


The collapse of the Assembly means that radical new laws will fall at midnight tonight. Here are 6 new laws that are now suspended:

1) Marriage Equality

SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood was set to introduce a new law which would legalise marriage for same sex couples in Northern Ireland. The Bill, supported by MLAs from a majority of parties in the Assembly, would have brought the North into step with the rest of these islands, sending a message of hope and acceptance in a society where it’s desperately needed.

2) Housing and Homelessness

Former Belfast Mayor and now North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon was working on legislation to tackle the causes of homelessness, bring together agencies working with those who find themselves homeless and increase support available for people sleeping rough.

The introduction of punitive welfare reform mechanisms by the current Executive and British Government means that homelessness is set to become an even more critical threat to families and individuals in the years ahead.

3) Ban Fracking

Fermanagh South Tyrone man Richie McPhillips understands the value of our beautiful natural heritage, particularly to our tourism economy. That’s why he was building on the moratorium on fracking introduced by SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan with legislation to place a statutory ban on fracking across Northern Ireland, protecting our heritage and our environment.

4) Breastfeeding protection

Before the collapse of the institutions, Claire Hanna had already put her Bill to protect breastfeeding mums and babies out for consultation. The law change was so popular, the consultation response received more replies than the whole Executive Programme for Government.

There remains no law in Northern Ireland protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed her child in a restaurant, cafe or other public place.

5) Acht na Gaeilge

Gaeilgeoir Patsy McGlone was working on an Irish Language act to protect, promote and enhance the rights of Irish language speakers throughout the North. Despite being a commitment in several agreements and despite Sinn Féin holding the culture Ministry for the longest unbroken spell in the history of devolution, no action has been taken on this law. The SDLP was committed to taking a stand on this long before the Assembly collapsed.

6) Investment equality

For too long, places outside Belfast and particularly west of the Bann have been deprived of their fair share of investment. That’s led to a loss of public services, underdeveloped infrastructure and a loss of jobs. SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood was working on a law that would place a statutory duty on all government departments and public bodies to give specific consideration to regional economic balance when making investment decisions.

This place is bigger than the greater Belfast area and Stormont needs to realise that.

Our Only Remain voice

26 01 2017
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA has responded to today’s Supreme Court Ruling which decided the British Government could not Trigger Article 50 without passing legislation through Westminster. The Supreme Court also ruled that the British Government were not required to consult the devolved institutions before triggering Article 50.

Mr Eastwood said, “This judgement marks a significant and serious departure from our devolution settlement. It significantly undermines the value placed on the democratic mandate of our Assembly. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, yet the Northern Ireland Assembly is being denied any role or rights in the upcoming negotiations with the European Union.

The SDLP is now the only party standing by the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland at Westminster. We will be the only voice of the 56% who voted remain.

“Although the Supreme Court disagreed with the view that there is a legal requirement to gain legislative consent from the Assembly, it remains our view that it is a political requirement to gain that consent and this will be top of our agenda in any post-election negotiations.

“That agenda will also include gaining special status for Northern Ireland in the event of Britain leaving the EU.

“Today’s judgement is particularly serious given the fact that it is being suggested that the unelected, unrepresentative House of Lords will be permitted a vote yet the devolved regions will not.

“I welcome the part of the judgement which ensures that a vote in Westminster will be required to give consent on the triggering of Article 50.  We will submit our own amendments and support any other amendments which protect our interests. We will vote against any Bill which triggers Article 50. I would strongly urge all pro-Remain MPs to join us in this action.

“Last week Theresa May set out her vision for a Tory hard Brexit which, if left unchallenged, will mean a hard border in Ireland.

“Everyone on this island has a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. It would prove devastating both politically and economically.  That includes the Sinn Fein MPs who do not take their seats at Westminster. If Sinn Fein are serious about new leadership they cannot shirk their responsibility to the people of Ireland and should therefore take their seats to vote against Article 50.”

“Hand of history should be feeling somebody’s collar” 

8 07 2016


SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has said it is clear that the invasion of Iraq was based on ‘a false premise and a false promise’ – and that the Chilcot report shows there was duplicity in the government’s overall presentation on this to the public and Parliament.

Strongly criticising Tony Blair’s decision to go to war, Mr Durkan also echoed the former PM’s remark ahead of signing the Good Friday Agreement by saying that “the hand of history should be feeling someone’s collar!” 

Addressing Prime Minister David Cameron during yesterday’s House of Commons debate on the Iraq inquiry, Mr Durkan said: “Those of us who come to the report scandalised anew by the duplicity of presentation and the paucity of preparation on such grave matters must nevertheless remember most those who are acutely burdened today by their cruel sense of futility of sacrifice in terms of lives lost, lives devastated and lives changed.

“The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that lessons need to be learnt, but we must be careful not to turn the report into a greywash by converting it into a syllabus about foresight in government and oversight in Parliament.

“This is not a day for soundbites, but does the Prime Minister not agree that the hand of history should be feeling someone’s collar?”

David Cameron replied that he thought “there’s a huge amount to learn and I think everyone who has played a part in it has to take their responsibility for it”.

It is not the island that is divided, it is the people that are divided- O’Loan

17 02 2016

Province Map

Opinion piece from Cllr Declan O’Loan

No one, looking at the history of the Assembly since 1998 can be sanguine about its future prospects.  Political divisions, there and in the wider community, are so intense that they put massive strain on a government structure which is necessarily based on power sharing.

The Executive is seriously underperforming.  Lack of cohesion means that major challenges in education, health and the economy are not being faced.  Many people are not voting.  What is missing is a common sense of purpose that commands broad support in the community.

How is this to be achieved when different constitutional aspirations lie at the heart of our divisions?

John Hume pointed out that it is not the island that is divided, it is the people that are divided.  This is a statement of utter simplicity and yet of profound depth.  Anything which does not work towards uniting the people will be a failure, as it has been in the past.

The people have responded to the democratic opportunity offered under the Good Friday Agreement by electing those that they see as the strongest champions of unionism and nationalism.  That is not uniting the people.  Some see a border poll as the way forward.

They are oblivious to the fact that a simple majority in favour of a united Ireland, even if it were to happen, would not unite the people.  The United Kingdom as an entity is under severe strain, and I find it hard to see how stable devolved arrangements can be constructed.

If Scotland leaves, the position of Northern Ireland will be very strange.  But no one should think that it will then be easy to roll over into a united Ireland, and our problems will be over.  That does not satisfy the “John Hume test” of uniting the people.

Does anyone suppose that in a new united Ireland the unionist political parties, flags, parades, bonfires, paramilitary groups, would all disappear.  Is it not more likely that the more unpleasant manifestations of unionist domination would intensify in local areas.

There is no alternative to the current structures, and what we have to do is make them work for the foreseeable future.  An opposition of a sort has been agreed for the Assembly.  Maybe that will achieve something, but I am not so sure.  Some have confidence that it will somehow “normalise” our politics, and that is a fantasy.

No, the only hope is to build up much more commonality of thinking within the existing structures.  What does this mean for unionism and nationalism?

Unionist wagons are still circled

For many years, it was the reluctance of unionism to engage that made it impossible to set up power sharing structures.  Those misgivings did not disappear  when the institutions were set up.

The repeated collapses of the Assembly, the defections to less moderate parties, the founding of a new party fundamentally opposed to the current structure (and its winning of significant public support) all testify to this.

The dynamic at Stormont is a curious mixture of teamwork at times, and at others deep separation and animosity, but it is the latter which is the stronger.  Unionism and nationalism have not fully entered into a spirit of partnership.  Unionism still gives every sign of being a reluctant player.

Unionist wagons are still circled and there remains an atmosphere of siege.  Any proposed change which reflects the nationalist tradition is seen as a challenge.  These attitudes repeat themselves in grassroots communities, indeed the two levels reinforce each other.

We observe widespread flag flying, bonfires, and parades, with a highly assertive attitude towards all of these.  Loyalist paramilitaries exert strong control in local areas.  If Stormont is going to work, there has to be a major softening of these unionist attitudes.

Nationalism too needs to change.

At a very deep level. nationalism has often failed to give legitimacy to the sense of Britishness felt by many in Northern Ireland.  The historic political power held by Britain over Ireland is seen as such a deep wrong that the entire right rests with those who wish to remove all vestiges of that power.

This is most clearly seen in the mindset of certain republicans who react with hatred towards British involvement here, and regard all steps, including violence of any degree, as morally justified in order to remove it.  The basic issue around legitimacy is much more widely felt.

If we are to establish common ground, nationalism will need to do more to recognise that Britishness is implicit in the background and tradition of many people here, and if it is expressed in a reasonable and tolerant fashion, it must be found a place in a broader concept of Irishness.

In my area, I am very familiar with the stories of Rose Young, scholar of Irish, and Margaret Dobbs, one of the founders of the Glens Féis in 1904.  Both would have been instinctively unionist, but would have regarded it as absurd to suggest that they were not fully Irish.

The space for such thinking has been squeezed out by history, and we need to reclaim it.  Nor must we insist that every unionist go off to Irish classes before we can give them a full place in our concept of Irishness.

The place of violence in our history is the other area which must become a focus for examination within nationalism.  The idea that we can “unite the people” through force and at the cost of so many wrecked lives must be thoroughly rejected, as it has been by constitutional nationalists.

Many groups played their part in the violence of the last forty years, but it is asking a very great deal of unionists to place their trust in the political representatives of republicans who had a role of primacy and centrality in that violence, and have not yet come to recognise how wrong that campaign was.

The commemoration of 1916 also throws this issue into relief.  At this distance we can surely recognise that amongst the idealism and courage of the men and women of the Easter Rising, the modern concept of “uniting the people” was not their thinking.

The Proclamation refers to “differences carefully fostered by an alien government”, underestimating the difficulty of obtaining the “allegiance of every Irish man and Irish woman” to the new Republic.  As nationalists, we have tended to “blame” the unionists for partition.

We need to become aware of the contribution of nationalism to the disaster that partition has turned out to be, through failing to work for a solution which would “unite the people’.  We need a nationalism which acknowledges and accepts the sense of Britishness among many of our people, which says clearly that physical force will not be used on them, and ample space will be found for an outward looking and tolerant unionism.

We are once again at a moment of decision.  We need to implement the well established steps for dealing with the past.  That on its own will not be enough, nor will it even achieve implementation unless we enhance the trust levels.

We can continue the stop-start acrimonious character of the Assembly, or we can embark on a new journey.  A modern forward looking Northern Ireland can be constructed.  A “Northern Ireland which works” cannot be built in isolation.  The British connection is inbuilt through the funding mechanism and numerous legal links.

The Irish dimension must be reinforced in a more focused way.  People can make voting decisions based on champions for their own community, or we can get leadership towards a future with a common foundation, and support for that kind of leadership from the grassroots.

There is a responsibility on political leaders, and also on all of us

McKillop welcomes meeting with Ofcom

24 01 2016

The SDLP group of councillors on the Causeway Coast and Glens Council have welcomed a workshop planned with Ofcom, the communications regulatory body, on 18 February to discuss poor mobile phone and broadband reception in the area

Councillor Margaret Anne McMcKillop who represents the Glens area said: “We welcome the presence of Ofcom to our council meeting to hear at first-hand from councillors the level of dissatisfaction that exists across large areas of the council.

“There is no doubt that the meeting is timely and will support the strongly held views of SDLP Assembly Members who have already met this regulatory body.

“Our people are very disappointed that public money made available from government in the past running into millions has not delivered for the rural community a level of service fit for purpose. For that reason we welcome the announcement by the UK government that work has begun on a universal service obligation (USO) aimed to give citizens the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speed of 10 Mbit/s, no matter where they live.

“10 Mbit/s is the speed needed to meet the demands of today’s typical family and many small businesses.

“In the run-up to this meeting I want to hear from anyone who is dissatisfied with the level of service they are receiving from network providers of broadband or mobile phone reception who can contact me in my office in Cushendall where the number is (028) 21771585.”


Connor Duncan selected to fight North Antrim Assembly Election

5 10 2015
Eugene Reid, Connor Duncan, Dónal Cunningham

Eugene Reid, Connor Duncan, Dónal Cunningham

The SDLP has selected 28 year old Connor Duncan as its North Antrim candidate in the forthcoming Assembly Election.

Mr Duncan was chosen at a selection convention attended by SDLP members in Dunloy on Sunday afternoon. The meeting was addressed by SDLP Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP and former Executive Minister and North Antrim MLA Sean Farren.

Mr Duncan said:

“I’m delighted to have been selected by the party to fight for the people of North Antrim. I have no doubt about the challenge ahead but I am confident that we can put a progressive voice back in the Assembly to deliver for our area.

“Politics at Stormont has stalled. People here know that, we’ve been acutely affected by a loss of jobs that has devastated families and communities across North Antrim. Our local health service facilities are under constant threat of closure. People here are waiting on the benefits of peace. It’s time to break that deadlock and deliver change. That means we need a change of representation, a change of political leadership at Stormont. I believe I can be part of that change.

“In the weeks ahead I’ll be knocking doors, talking to people and building on the work of the party across North Antrim. I look forward to bringing a positive message to hard pressed households across this constituency and with the support of good people who deserve better, we will deliver for North Antrim.”

Quigley : Disappointment as motion to help refugees descends into party politicking

24 09 2015



SDLP Coleraine Councillor Stephanie Quigley has expressed her disappointment after an SDLP motion aimed at responding to the refugee crisis facing Europe was defeated in last night’s meeting of Causeway, Coast and Glens Council.

She said: “I am very angry that this effort was scuppered last night because of the introverted vision of some Councillors. This was a chance for the Council to reflect the great efforts of many in our community and the will of the wider public who want to see action to help Syrian refugees.

“There was robust discussion on the motion and an important issue like this demands nothing less but for DUP and Sinn Fein councillors to use a humanitarian effort as a springboard to launch a debate about the IRA is totally inexcusable. It is an insult to the people risking their lives and the lives of their children to escape conflict.

“It is an embarrassment that as of last night, our Council’s official response to this global crisis is to bicker about unrelated matters. The onus is now on those Councillors to reflect on what happened and to get on board with the rest of our people and the global community.

“While this issue may invite debate it should not be an excuse to rescore traditional divisions. This is a matter of life and death and we will not accept inaction.”

SDLP will keep Labour true to its values

30 03 2015


Vote Labour

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell has said that a strong team of SDLP MPs will keep a future Labour government true to its values and will ensure the best deal for people in Northern Ireland.

Dr McDonnell said, “Since its establishment, the SDLP has worked closely with the British Labour party on a wide range of issues, and we have found common ground on many of our core values.

 “But we are elected on our manifesto not someone else’s. We are not tied to another party. Whether Labour is in power or in opposition, we will stand firm on our principles. Our MPs in Westminster voted against every stage of Welfare Reform. We voted against a welfare cap. During the last Labour government, we were unwavering in opposition to the Iraq War. Our MPs voted against the cut in the 10p tax rate. We refused to accept 42 day detention. These were all issues that Labour supported. I have already made it clear that if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, we will continue to stand firm on our principles.

 “Naturally we want the party we share the most ideological goals with in government. That means that the SDLP will categorically refuse to support David Cameron and the Conservative party. The austerity measures he has imposed upon Northern Ireland, which we continue to oppose, are only the beginning. A second Cameron-led government would inflict further cuts of £30bn on the public. The SDLP is the only Northern Ireland party that can honestly say it has not supported the Tories and will continue to oppose them.

 “If Ed Miliband wins, it will be with our support, on our terms that he takes power. The needs of people in Northern Ireland are significantly different from those in middle England. With significant Tory and UKIP power blocks in the next parliament, we will be the left of centre backbone of a Labour administration and along with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, will ensure that the next Labour government remains true to its values. We want to work in Westminster to secure a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland: one that involves remaining in Europe, enhanced fiscal powers to unlock the potential of tourism and position ourselves on a level playing field with business in the South and a fully transparent way in which to properly deal with issues from our past.

 “We want to support a strong Labour Government with a progressive programme for the next parliament. Voting for the SDLP will help deliver that.”

Welfare Reform U-Turn ?

13 03 2015
Justin McNultySDLP Newry and Armagh Representative Justin McNulty has called on Sinn Féin welfare spokesperson Mickey Brady to explain his U-Turn on the Welfare Reform Bill after months of opposing the SDLP stance against cuts to the vulnerable.

He said:

“Mickey Brady owes people an explanation. He needs to explain why, after months of supporting the worst excesses of Tory austerity in the Welfare Reform Bill, including his vocal support for introducing the Bedroom Tax in legislation, he and his party have decided to backtrack.

“The SDLP has publically and vocally stood against this bill. We have submitted scores of amendments in an attempt to salvage the legislation and protect the most vulnerable. That included petitions of concern that Sinn Féin refused to sign. It also included an attempt to guarantee a statutory right to free, independent advice for benefit claimants, something that Mickey Brady, himself a former benefit centre worker, voted against.

“I’m glad that he and his colleagues have woken up and realised the devastating impact this bill will have on struggling families, the sick and the disabled. I’m glad that they have joined the SDLP in opposition to these savage attacks on the vulnerable. But he must now account for what he has said and done which allowed these proposals to get to this stage.

“People are sick of the spin, sick of the double speak and sick of the U-Turns. Either you stand up for the vulnerable or you don’t. Mr Brady needs to decide whether he will stand with us against the Tories or stand with them against the people of his constituency.”