Interesting that todays headline in the News Letter (no of course I didnt buy it” has Nigel Dodds MP (DUP for North Belfast) having a rant about the SDLP losing its moral compass and pandering to the “dissident republicans”.
For a few weeks now, I have been pointing out that increasingly most issues are issues of Civil Rights. Ah the issue of Civil Rights hasnt gone away ya know. The treatment of Victims, the disappeared, welfare cuts, Irish language, prisoners, public sector pay, places in nursery schools…….these and other issues have a Civil Rights Dimension.
Take for example the photograph showing Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA, Cllr Nicola Mallon, Pat Ramsey MLA and Alban Magennis MLA presenting a petition calling for the release of republican dissidents, Gerry McGeough and Marian Price. Presumably this is what is agitating Nigel Dodds.
But clearly it is a Civil Rights issue and the SDLP is being entirely consistent with its history and record on Civil Rights to involve itself in this issue. Certainly more consistent than Nigel Dodds whose Party was hardly at the forefront of the Civil Rights struggle. Or indeed Sinn Féin whose record on civil Rights is not a proud one.
Frankly when SDLP uses the words “Civil Rights” it gets attention. And Id be happy to hear SDLP spokespersons use the words more often….in a variety of contexts. In the particular context of prisoners, Sinn Féin has been happy enough to see injustice in the prisons as a propaganda tool….Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven.
Nigel Dodds is of course wrong to suggest that SDLP is pandering for dissident votes. Because there are no dissident votes…..cos they dont vote! The clue is in the word “dissident”. But clearly the DUP are rattled. And so are Sinn Féin.
In several Blogs, I have pointed out that SDLP talks to a lot of people…..actually they listen to a lot of people who are not SDLP voices. Including SDLP Conferences. I have had to endure Duncan Morrow, Mary Hanafin, Davey Adams and God help us……Joanna Tuffy TD…..lecture me on my many shortcomings. Alas its what the SDLP does…..and theres precious few votes in it. But arguably it is the right thing to do.
On the “dissident prisoner” issue it defies logic to think this is a blatant attempt to win votes. There is however historical precedents to what SDLP is doing now and unfortunately I am old enough to remember it rather well.
In 1973 in West Belfast, I was a member of the SDLP. Strange as it may seem I got a hard time from the British Army and RUC when they found the SDLP membership card in my wallet. And I got dogs abuse from the “Republican Clubs/Workers Party” types because they were political rivals (of sorts). But I never ever got a hard time from the Provos (at least not on account of my SDLP membership). Indeed my mother was often asked if I knew Paddy Devlin’s phone number or could I get in contact with Desmond Gillespie. Cos more often than most people, the Provos had constituency issues…….often in relation to Long Kesh or Andytown RUC Station.
Indeed it was a regular occurence after a SDLP Branch meeting to walk (almost) next door to Andytown RUC Station to enquire if wee Paddy had been taken there. Or maybe drive down to Springfield Road RUC Station.
Obviously Sinn Féin likes to big themselves up about the 1970s. But they were actually pathetically weak. They were merely the parents and wives of Provos…..with no policy other than a mutual support system. But did SDLP working in the interests of detainees, prisoners or internees actually win the SDLP votes? Hardly. Then (like the dissident republicans today) Sinn Féin were calling for elections to be boycotted. It was routine then for Paddy Devlin’s house and Desmond Gillespie’s house to be picketed by the families of detainees, prisoners and internees. Shamelessly the very people that Paddy or Dessie had helped the night before.
Thats how it goes. But its NOT about them. Its about US. Its about Civil Rights. And the great thing about Civil Rights is that its about EVERYBODY.