Alban’s fantasies are incompatible with the historical facts

Posted By: June 08, 2018

Jack Duffin. Letters to  Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, June 7, 2018
Alban Maginness (May 17), will tell his grandchildren that the SDLP were unique in Irish politics, changed the face of politics throughout Ireland, and since its formation in 1970 they steered the history of this island as the most successful party since partition.

It is difficult to speculate as to what such delusions can contribute to a proper debate about the history of this dying political party, its perceived achievements, and relevance.

The truth is that these fantasies are incompatible with the historical facts. It is true though that some of their founder members attended civil rights marches. I walked beside Gerry Fitt at the first march from Coalisland to Dungannon. But when this political party was founded in 1970 they opted for a parliamentary career. And they did so in the full knowledge that their trips to Westminster could never address the grievances of those who elected them.

Before partition, Ireland sent over 80 nationalist members to that forum. And many of them, including Michael Davitt, Stewart Parnell, and Joe Devlin, were more eloquent orators and more capable politicians than anybody from the SDLP. But they could not stop the genocide of more than two million Irish people by famine, the Black and Tans, Auxiliaries or the wastage of Ireland’s youth in England’s imperialist wars. And the grasping landlords who carried out the evictions

were only defeated by the massive agitation organized by Davitt and the Fenians.

In 1792, Presbyterian preacher, the Rev Sinclair Kilburn collected 600 signatures at a public meeting in Belfast. They demanded that the British government end the oppression of Catholics in Ireland and introduce Catholic emancipation. The motion was tabled by local MP John O’Neill in mid-February and binned by the government before the end of that month.

If Alban really believes that the SDLP succeeded in Westminster where everyone else failed he should point us to even one of those successes.

And in 1991 it was left to political activists who were not affiliated to any political party to enlighten a shocked subcommittee of the European Parliament about the extent of religious discrimination in employment throughout the Six Counties. We have a long way to go to secure human rights here, but the residents of the Ormeau and Garvaghy roads do not endure sectarian marches today because people sat on the road and were batoned by police. Fair employment legislation was secured when people met in derelict buildings and planned lobbies, protests, and boycotts. And we stopped them from chaining the children’s swings up in the parks on Sundays.

The SDLP contributed nothing to any of this and I wouldn’t advise Alban to have that conversation with his grandchildren.