Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Support for an opposition role in the SDLP?

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) held its annual party conference in a hotel in Armagh this weekend. Two things were of significance. First, Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell managed to give his conference address despite the teleprompter (auto-cue), which was imported from England for the conference, not working properly. He apparently learned something from his last major performance. Second, the party addressed the need to consider going into opposition at some point. Deputy Leader Dolores Kelly called for the party to do this. This call and discussion was considered a positive sign by former UUP Deputy Leader John McCallister. He figures that the more discussion there is of this idea among senior party officials in both the SDLP and the UUP the greater the chance is of new legislation being introduced to support an opposition role at Stormont.  McDonnell, like St. Augustine, asked to be principled but not quite yet. He does not want the party to give up its single Stormont minister, Alex Atwood, who might then become his competitor for the leadership. So he wants to hold the other parties to account, but do this from the Executive rather than from the opposition benches.  No wonder Sinn Fein continues to dismiss the SDLP as irrelevant. 

Here is BBC Northern Ireland politics correspondent Mark Devenport's take on the conference.

Liam Clarke is reporting in the Belfast Telegraph that there  is considerable support for the opposition idea within the party. Former party leader Mark Durkan echoed Kelly's call for opposition and the SDLP's sole minister, Alex Atwood, said the idea should be debated. Clarke also reported considerable support among party activists for the idea. And here is Jim Allister, head of the far-right Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) praising the opposition idea.

The terrorist group styling itself "the New IRA," which was created this summer from elements of three different dissident republican groups, has claimed credit for last week's murder of prison guard David Black.  Prison guards are an interesting group in that they can both be seen as part of the security forces, and thus "legitimate targets," for a guerrilla campaign and as civilians. Those who see them as civilians, such as loyalist terrorist groups like the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, might then be tempted to retaliate and thus attempt to show that they have not disappeared completely and are still relevant and important. So far, if this was the New IRA's intention it has not succeeded. Loyalists have left it to the authorities to avenge the murder by solving the crime and sending the perpetrators to prison. Maybe this is another sign that Northern Ireland is becoming slowly a normal society.

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