SDLP Youth Conference: The Campbells Are Coming

There are two images from the SDLP Youth Conference in Derry that I will not easily forget. One is Gregory Campbell…fairly outspoken DUP MP for East Derry walking into An Culturlann and the second image is the collective double-take of the “regulars” in the small restaurant.

Gregory Campbell was there to take part in the Conferences “set piece” the Panel Discussion. I am not a big fan of SDLP listening to “other voices” but in this case it seemed a reasonable exception. As the Conference pack proclaimed “Mol an Oige….” It is perhaps a pretty decent sign that senior politicians from other parties are prepard to give up some time on a Saturday morning.

Michael Copeland MLA (UUP) and Professor Peter Shirlow travelled up from Belfast. In the spirit of these things, people are not quite “off the record” but are prepared to be open …and it is therefore only right that I be respectful of their contributions.

The theme was the Good Friday Agreement …..Michael Copeland voted against the Agreement. He was not actually a member of the UUP at the time. He had been a part time officer in UDR, his wife a member of the RUC (injured often on duty) and his view now is that “we are all in this together” and he spoke movingly about the social problems in East Belfast.

Peter Shirlow spoke about two kinds of alienation…one of the disenfranchised as Mr Copeland had mentioned but one of “identity” . The Conflict affects the mental well-being of people who had not even lived during it. Of course he spoiled it all by mentioning the Life and Times Survey.

Joe McHugh TD for Donegal North East thought that we are too obsessed with “institutions”. Katherine McCloskey, a PhD Politics student and member of SDLP said that discussions such as the one taking place did not involve the people being talked about and perhaps surprisingly (she is a Teaching Assistant at QUB) said that politics students are not much interested in …Politics.

For Gregory Campbell the Good Friday Agreement was a mistake. It had made no difference in working class communities (a very good anecdote illustrated this) and had divided people into pro and anti Agreement camps.

Conall McDevitt stated that the “real” division is between the “haves and have nots” but is committed to the Good Friday Agreement. The GFA is “ours” and I think he was speaking both in terms of the SDLP AND Norn Iron. He believes that Nationalism ” needs to change” and should be having a conversation with itself.

The nature of a six-person Panel is that it leaves no time for questions. Just two were taken. Where will be in ten years time?

Michael Copeland is pessimistic. There is trouble brewing in the back streets….with young people. He does not want a Future determined by “date of birth and postcode”. He fears de-stabalisation. Gregory Campbell wants no big announcements….”steady as she goes”. For Conall, Irish Unity will be based on a federal module. Nationalists should not downplay their “northern” experience.

Peter Shirtlow pointed out that there is no Dublin Ministry that is actively working on Irish Unity. The old West Germany had such a Ministry working on German unification long before the Berlin Wall fell.

The second question was on Integrated Education. Joe McHugh could not think it could be seperated from Integrated Housing. Conall McDevitt said that the Eleven Plus was a success in its day. Michael Copeland spoke movingly of his own familys experience. But perhaps Gregory Campbell nailed it with Integrated Education not being the answer…nor was Segregated Education. Integrated Education had been feared as social engineering but the fear has largely gone. He emphasised Parental Choice.

So what have we learned about all this…..well Michael Copeland really cares about people. Gregory Campbell thinks the same way that I do (cue LetsGetAlongerists saying that this is no surprise). Peter Shirtlows notion of two alienated groups….the disenfranchised poor and the disenfranchised “identity” types. But isnt that what Ive called the Underclass and that ridiculous Overclass (God I cant stand the Overclass with their insufferable crap about being too posh to vote in Norn Iron). And Conalls call for conversations within Nationalism would have more credibility if a Sinn Fein MLA was asked on a Panel at a SDLP Conference. ….have we not heard enough of Davey Adams, Rev Norman Hamilton, Duncan Morrow, Mary Hanafin, Brian Hayes….and that Joanna Tuffy .

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15 Responses to SDLP Youth Conference: The Campbells Are Coming

  1. Pingback: We need to talk about the SDLP… | footballcliches

    • Great post on his own blog by FC.
      Well worth a read and hopefully tonight I will post a comment.
      But I urge you to read it and contribute to th conversation.

      • Thanks FJH, I was a little wary posting it as I don’t want to annoy but I do believe we need to be holding all of our reps to account for what they either do or don’t. Looking forward to your and others thoughts on the post btw.

  2. factual says:

    Conal would make a good SDLP leader.

    • I am convinced that he will be the next one.
      I think he is certainly representative of key players in the SDLP.
      I am lessconvinced of his appeal to rank and file SDLP especially in the west… But I think he is “cute” enough to glad-hand the membership. he is much admired in SDLP Youth…in part because of his South Belfast base and QUB….but getting Youth on his side would be key.
      But for me Conall and his key lieutenants are far too close to the metrotextual world of eg Platform for Change, the LetsGetAlongerist forum.
      The risk would be losing the average SDLP voter.

  3. factual says:

    I think Conal is more of a political leader than the others in the SDLP – he has interesting ideas and interesting ways of expressing them.

    I thought Conal was making an interesting point recently when he said recently that uniting the *people* of Ireland was much more important for the SDLP than uniting *territory* of Ireland; and that these are different things. This suggests that the people can be united without the territories being united. I think this is the direction he would take the SDLP.

    Consistent with this he also said that he wanted the SDLP *more* to be a social democratic party that attracts support from the nationalist community,and *less* to be a nationalist political party that attracts votes from social democratic minded community.

    • factual says:

      He (Conal McDevitt) also quotes John Hume quite a lot – which is surely a good thing for an SDLP leader to do – and points out that John Hume used to repeat again and again that “victories aren’t solutions” and that aiming for a solution therefore should not be to aim for a victory over the other side. This is a very John Hume position that rises above the sectional fray in a sense.

    • John Hume was at the Conference.
      To some extent, Conall is engaging in rhetoric.
      What he says doesnt actually make a lot of sense.
      “A social democratic party which draws support from nationalists” is more or less self evident. But the reason for THAT support is because the Party is nationalist.
      As I have indicated, when voting…I want the republican, socialist, nationalist and civil rights boxes to be ticked.
      So SDLP “wins” 4-3….at least on 1st May 2013.
      There is of course an “efficiency” issue and I think SF has lost ground on that.
      Certainly this attitude of Conall WITHIN SDLP is welcome but frankly the attitude of a faction rather than one which can lead a Party like SDLP.
      There is actually a context here.
      Opposition is the context.
      And increasingly, people talk about not “designating” as nationalist but refusing to designate. Again this very much a minority view within SDLP.
      But can SDLP really take upOpposition without abandoning the Good Friday Agreement which Conall says is “ours” (not totally clear on whether he means the People or SDLP…or both).
      And can SDLP refuse to designate themselves without abandoning the Good Friday Agreement.

      Indeed is SDLP positioning itself to ditch the Agreement (obviously after prolonged debate).
      My own belief is that the GFA is fatally compromised…thru Creative Ambiguity, thru failure to implement aspects such as Irish Language, Victims etc and the St Andrews Agreement AND the Alliance Party gerrymander.

      • factual says:

        As the Executive makes more and more unpopular decisions, so the pressure to be in opposition becomes stronger, for electoral reasons. And the GFA does not say that all parties HAVE to be in government, though it did stack things up to make it attractive to be there, so that the DUP would not go into opposition.

        Strange as it may seem, the big fear when designing the GFA was to hope the DUP would not go into opposition.

      • Theres more than that.
        SpeakingRights in the Assembly are determined by d’Hondt.
        Going into Opposition would bea half way house.
        What happens if after the next Election SDLP is “entitled to two Executive seats?
        You can bet your life DUP and SF would agree to cut the number of Departments.
        What happened that proposal where Alliance might lose a Department (Farry) last year.?
        They are still there.
        Ford would have pulled out. And sank it all.
        They should have called the bluff.

  4. Pingback: Irish Nationalism & Party Representation – Nation Building? The SDLP, Part 2 | footballcliches

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