Politics Made Simple part 3 (The Northern Ireland Assembly Election): What Is The SDLP?

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (or as they will be referred to in this opening paragraph, “The Simply and Desperately trying to Live Party”) are currently the third biggest party in the NI Executive, although that could all change by May the 5th. They were founded in the 1970s, and they were one of the two main parties in 1998 when the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement (whatever you want to call it), was signed (you know that thing which everyone born that year in Northern Ireland is only remembered for). Although the agreement has some good parts, it also had some bad parts, that might have proven to have been the cause of the car crash elections that have taken place since 2005/07 onwards, between the SDLP and their once marriage partner (yes, I mean the UUP).

But what are their main political beliefs, and what is it that differentiates between them and the second biggest party, Sinn Fein? In this episode, I’m going to be going through all their beliefs, so you know what you’ll be voting for on the 5th of May.

So as mentioned, the SDLP was founded as a nonsectarian political movement in the 1970s, and its first leader was Gerry Fitt, though it is John Hume who has been known as one of its more recognisable leaders, thanks to his greatest political achievement which was the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he also got a Nobel Peace Prize for. Having joined the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the late ’60s, Hume saw nationalism as a declining force in the new Europe, and thought Northern Ireland needed extended self-government, with powers reasonably divided between the population groups.

Though not one of the largest parties, the SDLP of today is led by Colum Eastwood, and as were the stepping stones of the party in its early days, their sole political aim is a United Ireland, though they want to achieve it by peaceful means.

They supported the UK adopting the euro during the Single Currency debate, and also supported Remain in the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

Some of their other stances on issues are that they support legislation involving the Irish Language Act, they support abortion in certain circumstances, and they also support Gay Marriage.

But they caused controversy last year when a bill dodged all mentions of girls and women, and pointed instead at “persons who have periods”.

They are supportive of the NHS, and are believed to have a plan for what they would like to keep in a United Ireland.

So to summarise what the SDLP is:

  • They are an Irish Nationalist party, who’s sole political aim is a United Ireland, but in a way that is brought around simply.
  • They are Pro-EU, Pro-Irish Language, Pro LGBT+ and Pro abortion in certain circumstances
  • They are Pro NHS
  • They were in support of the UK adopting the Euro
  • They have caused controversy recently over so called inclusionary language

Sources

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Politics Most Simple Episode 1 (The Northern Ireland Assembly Election): What is the DUP?

The DUP is the biggest Unionist party in Northern Ireland at the minute, currently holding the First Minister post — or at least when the Assembly is actually sitting. They helped hold up the British government between 2016-2019, back when Theresa May was Prime Minister, and for a short time when Boris Johnson became PM, although that changed after the December General Election of 2019.

But what are the simple points you need to know about the DUP before voting in the Assembly Election, and what values will you be voting for? In this blog, I am going to outline the key details you need to know about the DUP, so you can make the right decision on May 5.

The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the late Ian Paisley in 1971 — an Evangelical Christian, who — prior to going into politics, was a minister. For this reason, a percentage of the party’s MLAs, MPs and electorate are Evangelical Christians, which has become a problem in politics within recent years. (There are also people in the party who would say they are moderate, but Evangelical beliefs are still a large part of their messages).

They are also — as the party’s full name suggests — Pro Union.

Now looking at Brexit, when the referendum on the UK leaving the EU was held, the DUP were the only party in Northern Ireland to support leaving the EU. They favoured a Brexit which would mean that the UK “leaves as one”, but when Soft Brexit options were debated in Westminster (I will do a series of blogs later describing the entire story of Brexit and why it still matters), they voted against each one.

When Boris Johnson came to power, originally on a “Pro Union” mandate, he promised that he would “Get Brexit Done”. After renegotiating the original Withdrawal Agreement and offering it to the EU, the DUP originally endorsed Johnson’s offer on the 2nd of October 2019, before announcing on the 17th of the same month that they planned to vote against it. When the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement eventually went to Parliament, the DUP voted against the Trade Deal, but it ended up passing anyway in December 2020, effectively delivering what is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, or — explained simply for anyone who doesn’t follow UK politics — a border down the Irish Sea.

This is where the definition of the DUP starts getting interesting, as we see how much they changed in 2021.

Despite being firmly against the Protocol, the DUP started 2021 by trying to make the best of it. The then leader, Arlene Foster, even made a controversial appearance on The Late, Late Show on RTÉ, where she emphasised that, despite having left, the UK and the EU are still friends, and should work together. But within two months of the interview happening, there were calls for Arlene Foster to resign in April 2021 — after facing calls for her resignation and backlash from her inner circle of MLAs / MPs, after claims were made that she’s softened the DUP’s stance on Gay issues — not that the previous comments she made would have foretold this at all.

Since then, the DUP have found themselves tangled up in a mix of leadership crises, that has seen them going from having one leader to three within a few months (a milestone which has only been held before by their once big but from 2005 little brother, the UUP), with Edwin Poots — Arlene’s original replacement — only lasting for 21 days.

Poots was a Hard Line Unionist, who comes from a religious background, and is a big fan of the environment.

Their current leader is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson — a man who some say is moderate but who wants to be taken more seriously — who sent shock waves throughout Northern Ireland recently, by pulling the now former-First Minister, Paul Givan, out of government, in protest that the NI Protocol hasn’t been collapsed. This means that yet again, Northern Ireland has been left without a government, and to make matters worse, the parties still insist on arguing like little children, which means that — thanks to the Good Friday / Belfast and St Andrews Agreement — if one party doesn’t come back into the Assembly, Northern Ireland doesn’t have a government, unless Westminster returns us to Direct Rule, which just isn’t going to happen.

So to summarise what the DUP is:

  • They are a Christian, Pro-Union Party, with a percentage of Evangelical support, although they are also supported by mixed religions, even to the moderate extent.
  • They supported the UK leaving the EU in the 2016 Referendum, and wanted a deal where the entire UK left together, which lead them mostly into supporting most Hard Brexit Deals.
  • Before the British government passed Gay Marriage and Abortion Services into NI law, they were fundamentally against both political issues.
  • They are against Irish Language legislation, and Ulster Scots — but mainly due to how much each act will cost, and what money could get put into other areas.
  • They are determined to see the Northern Ireland Protocol collapsed, and will not return to the Assembly unless this happens.

Sources:

Paisley, Ian (Dictionary of Irish Biography): https://www.dib.ie/biography/paisley-ian-a10164

Ian Paisley first Minister of Northern Ireland: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ian-Paisley

Brexit: DUP Endorses Johnson’s Offer to European Union: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49910285

DUP Says it Cannot Support Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/17/dup-boris-johnson-brexit-deal

DUP MPs to Vote Against Boris Johnson’s Post-Brexit Trade Deal: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49910285

Arlene Foster, First Minister of Northern Ireland | The Late, Late Show | RTÉ One: https://youtu.be/NncuM5XAGfU

Arlene Foster Announces Resignation as DUP Leader and NI First Minister: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56910045

DUP Leadership Vote to Take Place on 14 May: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56973796

Edwin Poots Elected DUP Leader to Succeed Arlene Foster: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/14/edwin-poots-elected-dup-leader-to-succeed-arlene-foster

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson Ratified as DUP Leader by Party Executive: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/30/sir-jeffrey-donaldson-ratified-as-dup-leader-by-party-executivehttps://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/30/sir-jeffrey-donaldson-ratified-as-dup-leader-by-party-executive

Northern Irish Devolution Collapses Again: https://www.economist.com/britain/2022/02/12/northern-irish-devolution-collapses-again