The party of principle, the party of vision
A Short History of the SDLP
The SDLP was born out of the civil rights movement in August 1970 when six Stormont MPs and one Senator joined together to form a new political party. Since our foundation, the SDLP has been proudly nationalist and fully committed to a just and reconciled Ireland. As members of the Party of European Socialists and Socialists International, we are also solidly internationalist and strongly social democratic in our outlook.
The party's first leader was Gerry Fitt, with John Hume as his Deputy. Following Gerry Fitt’s resignation in 1979, John Hume became Leader and Seamus Mallon, Deputy Leader - positions they held for twenty-one years. In November 2001 Mark Durkan succeed Mr Hume with Brid Rodgers as his deputy. When Brid stood down she was replaced by Dr Alasdair McDonnell in February 2004.
In September 2009 Mark Durkan announced his intention to stand down as leader and was replaced at conference in February 2010 by Margaret Ritchie who became the first woman to lead the party. Patsy McGlone replaced Dr Alasdair McDonnell as Margaret's deputy.
In 2005, Mark Durkan held John Hume's seat as MP for Foyle, while Dr Alasdair McDonnell was victorious in South Belfast becoming the first Nationalist MP for the constituency. Meanwhile, Eddie McGrady was returned as the MP for South Down and retired from politics at the 2010 General election. Mark and Alasdair held their seats with Margaret Ritchie successfully defended the South Down seat for the SDLP.
In 2011, the SDLP returned 14 MLAs to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as 87 Councillors to Local Government. They currently have one Minister on the Executive, Alex Attwood, who serves as Minister of Environment. Conference 2011 saw the election of a new Party Leader, with Dr Alasdair McDonnell taking the helm, supported by Dolores Kelly as Deputy Leader.
Throughout the course of the past 40 years, the SDLP has never deviated from its core values. We have always stood completely opposed to all violence, arguing that it was not only morally wrong but politically bankrupt as well because violence always destroys that which it claims to defend. From our earliest days - as illustrated in the 1972 Policy Document "Towards a New Ireland" - we argued for an agreement that addressed the three core sets of relationships; between Nationalists and Unionists in the North, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland. These relationships are now at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. We have always fought for a policing service that is representative and accountable. Since joining the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships, we have driven forward the Patten agenda and more change has been delivered in policing in recent years than in the previous eighty.
After so much violence and destruction, the Agreement saw other parties sign up to principles the SDLP had consistently advocated. Its endorsement in referendum represented the clear will of the people of Ireland, North and South. While the Agreement's implementation was frustrated for many years, the SDLP held nothing back and wants only to take the Agreement forward. We want to use the institutions of the Agreement as the tools with which we will generate a stronger economy, grow greater solidarity in our community and build a better society for all. That is our "Better Way to a Better Ireland."