News | Attwood speech at SDLP Party Conference 2014

Attwood speech at SDLP Party Conference 2014

Speaking at the SDLP Annual Conference 2014’s ‘Political Affairs’ debate, SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood said:

“Questions have been raised about our role.  Our relevance.  Our vision.  Our future. So here are some:


“We believe in making Northern Ireland work.

“Some prefer Northern Ireland to stumble on, instability, wearing down unionism, maybe break their will.  Not us.  Be it part of the Union with Britain now or part of Irish Unity later, we are committed to making Northern Ireland work. If people here are to have the government and delivery from government so badly needed, we must do so.

“The SNP proves the case.  Making Scotland Work has been part of their approach.  It has been entirely compatible with, even necessary, to the SNP making the argument for (and nearly winning) the vote to take Scotland out of the Union.

“Making Northern Ireland work is part of our approach. And as making Scotland work shows, it helps create a framework for persuasion.  It creates for us in Irish democratic nationalism a bigger space to have the fullest conversation with unionism about our future.

“Isn’t that how Scottish democratic nationalism went about their conversation with the Scottish people, about Union or Independence? 

“That is how the SDLP, Irish democratic nationalism, will go about our conversation with people in Northern Ireland, about Union or Unity.


“We believe in Making Ireland Work.

“The DUP have spent much of the last seven years, by stealth and by design, working to unpick North-South.  Sinn Fein have been weak in response.  Dublin should have been stronger.

“Making Northern Ireland Work to its full is best achieved when we also Make Ireland Work to its full.  This needs the liberation of North-South.  Useful steps now taken on health should now see new leaps forward.  Health should be the trail blazer.

“The current Talks should see the liberation of North-South with a huge dividend for all our people. 



“We will not reduce elections to head counts. 

“Sinn Fein fall into line behind the DUP.  As with the Chancellors letter in October, as with the draft Budget in November, as with pacts this week, where Peter Robinson goes, Martin McGuinness follows. 

“Northern nationalism is wiser than to fall into line behind the tactics of Northern unionism.  We will be tested. But we know that outworn slogans and narrow strategies are the old politics. 

“We will not do pacts.


“We take our seats at Westminster.  We will not support the Tories if there is a “hung Parliament”.  We take the Labour whip we will support a Labour Government, on the right terms.  

“We will see if the collective strength of the SDLP, SNP and others can be directed to confront austerity and support working families and workless people.

“All of this will be huge over the next six months.  The SDLP will use its power wisely.


“We will consider opposition.  In doing so, we feel a conflict within. 

“On the one hand, the argument goes, why be part of something that is so removed from what Irish democracy struggled for, crafted and then secured?

“On the other hand, the argument goes, we need to remain in something so that our democracy is not a two party system, much like the old elitist, preferential, ascendency politics - the one party state, we democratically struggled and prevailed against. 

“We will further consider opposition.  There are more reasons to do so this year than this time last year.



“We need ‘war on organised crime’.  Who was behind the biggest ever illegal waste dump in Derry last year and the biggest ever illegal fuel plant in County Monaghan last week?  Biggest ever on these islands. 

“We need to know - not only who but how this happened.  How the PSNI, SOCA, OCTF say they had no intelligence about Derry?

“The SDLP has said this is hard to believe, that no one, anywhere, at any time had any intelligence about organised crime and the £50 million from the biggest illegal waste dump ever on these islands.

“While we still say it is hard to believe, believe me, we don’t have any member of our party who has made secret deals with the state over their criminal assets.

“We work to conclude negotiations around the National Crime Agency to reassure us that there will be accountability for their activities and for the NCA and others to reassure us there will be no more Derrys.



“We will not concede ground on justice, accountability and acknowledgement. 

“Vested interests work to unpick Haass/O’Sullivan on the Past. 

“When the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary said on Kincora that it would not be part of the London Abuse Inquiry but that “there will be the fullest possible degree of co-operation by all of this Government and its agencies” with the Hart Inquiry, this was for one reason. To protect the Security Service. 

“When Gerry Adams states that “The IRA has long left the scene so there is no corporate way of verifying” its conduct, this is for one reason.  Protect the IRA.

“Haass on the Past was already a compromise of the SDLP arguments of how accountability and acknowledgement should be shaped.  We will not bend on its threshold – we seek a higher one.

“The vested interests will resist the truth – together with victims and survivors we will resist them.


“We will stand with the children and young people brutalised, abused or manipulated by those in terror groups and those in the police, army and security service.

“We will stand with Mairia Cahill.  Why did Gerry Adams answer “I don’t know” where abusers were expelled?  Why did Gerry Adams answer “I don’t know” if Mairia Cahill was forced to face her attacker?

“Why? It was about facing down Mairia Cahill.  Facing down Victims of abuse.  Facing down Irish Democracy just as the provisional movement did for decades.

“Let them know Irish Democracy will not be faced down. Mairia Cahill will not be faced down. 


“We rejected the first DUP/Chancellors letter on ‘the Treasury loan’.  Sinn Fein fell for the trap.  We will reject the next DUP/Chancellors letter on welfare – for one may be coming – if it is in the same terms as the first letter – “Stand and deliver – Fall for the trap”.

“We met the Secretary of State on Thursday, a meeting full of Tory dogma and Treasury demands. Teresa Villiers gave us a paper.

“It was silent on why 100 in every 1000 are on disability benefits here with 50 in every 1000 in Britain.  It was silent on the fact that child poverty here by 2020 will be over 30%.  It was silent on the welfare, physical and emotional needs of victims and survivors.  It was silent on much else but it was full of sums.

“We will not vote for a Welfare Bill with the current Belfast financial top-up.  This is very short of what is needed. We said this to the Secretary of State on Thursday. We repeat this again today.


“We don’t support an EU referendum but we will be saying “YES” in a Euro-referendum.

“Not for us sitting on the fence like the Ulster Unionists.  Not for us flipflop on Europe like Sinn Fein.  Not for us, voting to leave the EU like the DUP and UKIP.

“More and more of politics for the next three years will be about “in/out.”  We will lead the YES argument.


“We are half way through the talks.  We continue to argue for a comprehensive and decisive outcome across all issues – budget and welfare, Haass 3 and agreement commitments.

“As they stand, London and the DUP are working towards a bit of a deal – a bit on budget, a bit on institutional reform, a bit of process on a few issues.

“We look to all others in the talks - governments and parties – to agree that anything short of comprehensive and decisive outcomes is too little. Anything short is short of the scale of the issues we face and the scale of needs of our people.”


Latest Posts