The SDLP was formed in 1970 to work towards a new, agreed Ireland based on partnership in the North, partnership between North and South and a new beginning to relations between Ireland and Britain.
The following is a selection of extracts from the key documents and key speeches that show how the SDLP paved the way for a more peaceful and just Ireland.
1972 'Towards a New Ireland' (1st SDLP Policy Document)
"Any proposals which are put forward as a solution to the present difficulties in the North of Ireland must be proposals which will provide permanent peace, and stability so that the people of Ireland of all traditions, can come together on a basis of harmony and justice, ending for all time the unjust domination of any one Irish tradition over another. They must be proposals which are put forward without taking into account any sectional or party advantage and which are arrived at by a genuine analysis of the constitutional and institutional difficulties which have led to the present situation."
1975 Manifesto for the 'Constitutional Convention' (negotiations)
"The past approach of each tradition, based on pursuit of victory for its point of view, has always resulted in conflict, death and destruction and in a deepening of bitterness and division. If we are ever to break out of the vicious cycle we need a new approach; not one which has ulterior ultimate objectives but one which, while respecting and acknowledging the aspirations and culture of each tradition, allows for the freely agreed evolution of both institutions and attitudes which, in the end, will produce the normal political society that we all want to see."
1977 -'Facing Reality' - (SDLP Policy Document)
"It is clear for all to see that the fundamental basis of past British policy has been, to say the least, singularly unsuccessful. Attempts to solve the problem in a purely British context have failed and will continue to fail. Rather than encouraging unionists to abandon their intransigence and intolerance, it has produced the opposite effect..."
"On the socio-economic front, as a Party founded on social democratic principles, we have strived and will continue to strive for a more equal distribution of wealth; we have opposed and will continue to oppose deprivation; we stand for an acceptance by the State of its responsibility for those who are unable to care for themselves."
1979 -'Towards a New Ireland - Policy Review' (SDLP policy document)
"[Our] approach necessarily means partnership between the differing traditions in the North, and partnership between both parts of Ireland... we have in a true spirit of understanding, emphasised that partnership would be on the basis of that which was freely agreed between North and South."
"It is now clear that the problems of Northern Ireland can only be solved by joint Anglo-Irish action taken as part of a clearly agreed programme between both Governments. The intransigence of a minority can no longer be allowed to frustrate the settlement of a problem which is poisoning relations between the people of Ireland and between the people of the two islands."
1979 - "The Irish Question: A British Problem" article by John Hume for Foreign Affairs Journal
"The time has come for a positive and decisive initiative. It must be taken by both London and Dublin acting together. They should first make it clear that there are no longer any unconditional guarantees for any section of the northern community. There is only a commitment to achieving a situation where there are guarantees for all."
1981 - SDLP Leader John Hume's Address to Party Conference
"The Anglo-Irish political initiative, originally an SDLP concept as the Taoiseach said in the Dáil on Thursday, has been formally launched by the Irish and British Governments. In a major development Mrs Thatcher agreed with Garret Fitzgerald to commit her Government to 'efforts to heal the divisions within Northern Ireland and to reconcile the two major traditions in the two parts of Ireland.' Our long-standing policy on the way to promote agreement has at last been accepted by a British government.
"All we demand is that you [Unionists] and your leaders sit down and negotiate our future with us and the British and Irish governments. For our part we would insist that the results of such talks would have to be ratified by two separate referenda, one in the north, and the other in the South."
1985 - SDLP Leader John Hume's Address to Party Conference
"For the SDLP 'victory' is 'out'. 'Peace', 'stability', 'agreement', 'consensus' and 'partnership' are all 'in'."
"So long as the legitimate rights of both unionists and nationalists are not accommodated together in a new political structure acceptable to both, that situation will continue to give rise to conflict and instability."
1993 - SDLP Leader John Hume’s Address to Party Conference
"It is people who have rights, not territory, not land. Our people, unfortunately, are divided and cannot be brought together by any form of coercion, only by agreement."
1994 - SDLP Leader John Hume's Address to Party Conference
"We now face that major challenge which lies ahead - to achieve lasting stability by achieving lasting agreement. We have now had the longest period of peace in the past twenty-five years. Can I express the belief that the decisions taken in recent times by the leadership of the Provisional IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries will prove to be truly historic decisions in that they have taken the gun and the killing of human beings out of our politics forever..."
"We are the first party on this island to have the word "consent" in our Constitution because we have always argued that it is the people of this island who are divided and that they can only be brought together by agreement. But let us underline, as Seamus Mallon has done very effectively in major statements in recent times, that the principle of consent applies to both sections of our divided people."
1998 - John Hume at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
"Only on the basis of equality, fairness and respect for our differences could we begin to heal the deep divisions between our people. This historic agreement enables us, at last, to start the healing process. It creates the partnership framework which will allow us to do so.
"There can be a new dawn in politics on this island. We can agree a comprehensive settlement which allows both our traditions to work together. It will be a new agreed Ireland in which the rights and interests of both the nationalist and unionist traditions, and others, will be safeguarded and cherished. We must safeguard and cherish this agreement we have worked so hard to accomplish...
"The reality of living with difference and affirming identity is that we cannot achieve actualisation without mutual accommodation. Martin Luther King got to the heart of it when he said, 'I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.' Nationalists cannot be what they ought to be until unionists are what they ought to be, and vice versa."
1998 - Seamus Mallon MP at British Labour Party Conference
Equality, parity of esteem and parallel consent are written into the Agreement - they are core of the new dispensation which we can and will implement."
1999 - John Hume SDLP Annual Conference
"Now is not a time to rest on our laurels. The new year and the new century will bring fresh and crucial challenges as we seek to demonstrate that our dream of a new, agreed Ireland, based on partnership and on peace, is no illusion. We in the SDLP have a unique and irreplaceable contribution to make. Let us all, together, continue to work tirelessly to reach our goal."
2001 - Mark Durkan MLA Leader SDLP
This will be a time when the "We shall Overcome" anthem of Civil Rights will inspire a new generation.
For, We Shall Overcome division, We shall overcome poverty,
We shall overcome prejudice,
We shall overcome violence,
We shall overcome sectarianism,
We shall overcome racism,
We shall overcome homelessness”
2002 Mark Durkan MLA Leader SDLP
"As leader of a party that has always believed in unity by consent and did more to achieve the Agreement than any other let me be clear: I am 100% for a United Ireland. I am 100% for the Agreement. Neither diminishes nor qualifies the other. I can also state that I know others who are 100% for the Union with Britain and also 100% for the Agreement. That’s the strength of the Agreement. It offers a democratic common denominator between unionist and nationalist, loyalist and republican."
2007 Mark Durkan MP MLA SDLP Leader Conference Speech
One of the underestimated truths in politics is that change changes things.
We now have a settled process and people which will come to take the Agreement’s institutions as given. A context of institutional stability will produce a stage of political flux, which, in turn, will bring a new degree of electoral fluidity. Just because, from this vantage point, it might be foolhardy to try to predict all that this fluidity might entail; it would be foolish to pretend that it would not or should not involve us.
We were the first party to recognise that a new dispensation would create new possibilities for political realignment, both within the North and across the island.
We are very comfortable that other parties, not least some of the southern parties, are now recognising this too. They have – or will be – establishing their own channels for considering these questions. The SDLP have been – and will be – engaging with them. Positively. Confidently. Honestly.
The possibilities are too precious and the prospects too important for anyone to make decisions now that are forced or false. As others rightly approach this potential “strategically and gradually”, so do we. We do so with proper caution for a healthy political equilibrium in the North and unmistakable ambition for a fulfilling dynamic in island-wide politics.
As we engage with different parties and some outside party politics, we will be building on our own review discussions. An SDLP working group on all-Ireland politics and realignment will develop our thinking. Both for ourselves and with others, we need to create a coherent framework to consider all the relevant issues, implications and ideas.