I have received a couple of emails asking me to comment on Brian Feeney’s colum in the “Irish News” today. This necessitated me walking down to the local shop at 6pm. I spare no effort on behalf of my readers.
Essentially Brian Feeney ridicules the SDLP Conference and like his fellow columnist Tom Kelly (“Irish News” on Monday) paints Dolores Kelly, Deputy Leader of SDLP as the villain of the piece. As Brian puts it, she undermined Alasdair McDonnell by bringing up the subject of “Opposition” …….and thus set the tone for the series of after-Conference interviews where Alasdair appeared uncomfortable.
I regard Brian Feeney as an honest commentator. Indeed for nearly a year, I refused to correct the Alliance contingent on Slugger O’Toole…….they actually believed I was Brian Feeney.
There is no point in trying to bluff him into believing that relationships within SDLP are always or even occasionally or indeed ever harmonious. He could write a book about the SDLP….or to put it another way…..he HAS written a book about the SDLP.
Where his colleague, Tom Kelly is certainly right…….there are RETIRED SDLP figures who are addicted to plotting and intrigue and use proxies to further that. That tends to irritate me. It irritates a lot of people.
But this is actually different from the “Opposition” debate. About this I am neutral. The extent to which the SDLP can cling to the Good Friday Agreement is questionable. So much (Irish Language Act, Bill of Rights, Victims) has not been implemented and so much has been implemented badly. Easy to say that SDLP & UUP in charge would have been better…….I actually doubt that. But really only SDLP had the intent of operating it with a degree of good grace. They hopelessly over-estimated Unionism. And frankly that was naive.
And of course an agreement founded on Creative Ambiguity is possibly doomed to fail.
As Seamus Mallon put it……the Good Friday Agreement is “Sunningdale for Slow Learners”. As I put it a few years ago The St Andrews Agreement is “the Good Friday Agreement for slow learners”. And as I put it now ….there is another agreement waiting to be signed……in five or ten years time and probably the SDLP will come to a point where they decide to work towards the next agreement rather than try and save the Good Friday Agreement.
Opposition is something the SDLP MIGHT choose…..and that would be a debate. But on the other hand the collapse of the Executive thru external forces might force the choice.
As I have said….Brian Feeney is an honest commentator who not only has the pulse of the nationalist voter. He is also a leader of nationalist opinion. It would be folly to dismiss his opinions.
Where is perhaps wrong is to think that SDLP is in terminal decline. Many people.including Brian Feeney himself formed or joined the SDLP in its early days. They joined in BAD TIMES…not good times. Just like a lot of younger folk are doing these days.
There is all to play for.