SDLP Must Look South

The SDLP should organise in the Republic, contest Dail elections and bring a breath of fresh air for Ireland’s sensible nationalist movement. That’s the unusual and contentious advice from Radical Unionist and conservative evangelical Christian commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his Fearless Flying Column today. 

Okay, I know I’ve been rather sore on the election-bashed SDLP in my columns in recent months, so I’ve tried to be positive today and see how the seemingly doomed moderate nationalist party can have a future in Ireland.

I’ve always been suggesting that the SDLP can only combat the republican movement’s political bandwagon by merging with either of the two main parties in the republic, namely Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

That would involve either of these two movements coming north of the border. While I’ve always been in favour of Unionism organising and contesting elections in Southern Ireland, maybe that’s just the tonic which the SDLP actually needs.

Could there be room in Southern politics for a third moderate nationalist party to take on Sinn Fein? At the moment, Sinn Fein dons the mantel of the so-called ‘third force’ in Southern Irish politics, having pushed both Irish Labour and the Greens out of that slot.

Contesting Southern elections would give the SDLP the same political battle axe which Sinn Fein used to electorally batter the SDLP - namely that Sinn Fein was organised on an all-island basis.

Before you write me off as another looney Right-wing Presbyterian radical trying to stir up the spirit of the United Irishmen, the SDLP should consider how all-Ireland representation benefited the forward march of the Shinners.

The republican movement can always gives a political ‘up yours’ to the Northern nationalist movement because the former champions the cause of the only truly all-Ireland organisation.

At one time, Southern Sinn Fein boasted dozens of councillors, an MEP and several TDs.

But that was before Shinner bosses decided to rebrand the party as a Far Left communist bunch, sparking a ‘reds under the bed’ scare among Southern middle class Catholic voters.

Sinn Fein, however, under Adams and McDonald, have learned the lessons of that past tactical mishap.

But the latest opinion polls show Southern support for Sinn Fein is on the rise again. The current Fine Gael coalition has all but imploded.

Judging by the vibes coming out of Dublin’s Leinster House corridors, a General Election in the Republic may just be around the corner.

In Britain, remember when many pundits predicted then Tory boss David Cameron would walk the Commons clash.

He didn’t, and ended up in a cost-cutting shotgun marriage with Nick Clegg’s Liberals. And, of course, there was the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition at Stormont before that imploded in January 2017.

The Sinn Fein Grand Plan was to hold the balance of power in both the Assembly and Dail. That could become a reality if Sinn Fein had half a dozen more TDs in the next Dail election.

The SDLP has no paramilitary baggage, and many Northern Protestants tactically vote for it to kick the Shinners in the political nuts. The problem for Unionists is that more nationalists have converted to Sinn Fein than have returned to the SDLP, or indeed, Protestants tactically voting for the SDLP in places like Foyle and South Down.

The nationalist movement needs to box clever. Could a Southern-based SDLP win half a dozen Dail seats and rob Sinn Fein of a minority coalition place?

That’s all it would need to secure to guarantee a place in a future coalition government at Leinster House.

Statistics also suggest that while the Southern Protestant population is slowly rising again, it may not be voting for traditional parties, such as the Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour or the Greens.

And the most an Irish Unionist Party could muster would be a couple of border councillors in Donegal, Cavan and Leitrim.

Could a Southern SDLP under Colum Eastwood prove itself as a workable alternative to Sinn Fein’s ‘green communism’?

Slowly, I am becoming convinced Mr Eastwood has the brains and policies to win back the Catholic middle class votes which were ‘lent’ by John Hume to Sinn Fein to lure republicans into the peace process - provided he rebrands the SDLP as an all-island movement.

Remember the ‘Vote Mike, Get Colum’ tactic between the UUP and SDLP which imploded very badly? But how would a ‘Vote Colum, Get Leo’ pact between the SDLP and Fine Gael work? Even a ‘Vote Colum, Get FF coalition government’ might work?

The republican movement has always worked on the assumption its rival nationalist movement would never stray south of the border, or merge with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

Just as plans were afoot before the January 2017 meltdown to set up a workable opposition in the Assembly using the Ulster Unionists and SDLP, could progressively minded nationalists – and unionists – use the SDLP to give Northerners a real say in the running of the South?

The fate of former SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan may have proved my brainchild of a single nationalist party is firmly on the rocks, probably because decent nationalism does not want the new movement contaminated by the political stench of Sinn Fein’s IRA past.

SDLP TDs and Senators could be the key to getting the Dail to join the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, a body which represents over 50 national and regional chambers across the globe.

The last thing Ireland needs is for the Greek cash tragedy to visit the Emerald Isle. It is time for Ireland to consider leaving the euro zone and restore the punt as Brexit looms ever closer.

And what would be so wrong with the South developing a more formal new agreement with the UK to survive either a ‘no deal’ or Hard Brexit?

“It’ll be a snowy day in Hell before I bow the knee to an English Queen!”

These, most certainly, are not my words because I am a fanatical Royalist.

This is the angry response of one well-placed republican contact when asked why he objected to Royal visits to Ireland, north or south.

My answer to so-called nationalists who are hell-bent on giving a two-fingered salute to the Royal Family is – you don’t know what you’re missing!

My wife and I once had the pleasure of being among the hundreds of well-dressed guests attending a rain-soaked garden party at Hillsborough Castle and briefly spoke to Countess Sophie of Wessex.

Even if it was only for a few seconds, people had braved the lashing showers for almost three hours just to catch either a glimpse or speak to the Countess or her hubby, Prince Edward, one of the heirs to the English Throne.

The women got the chance to display their latest fashions; the men dressed in their best suits. There were plenty of delicious sandwiches, teas, buns, ice-cream, strawberries and cream.

A military band played a selection of heart-warming tunes to still the Hillsborough chill – and all of us, for a few hours anyway, spoke with marbles in our mouths!

Even if republicans were attending, they didn’t let their presence be known. It was clear everyone was a Royalist for the day.

Regretfully, Irish republicanism over the generations has sought to stamp out the growth of a vibrant Irish Catholic Royalist movement.

Like political bargain hunters at the sales, nationalists and unionists have tried to lay claims to various aspects of Irish society, fuelling false myths.

For example, only nationalists speak Irish; only unionists speak Ulster Scots; only Orangemen were slaughtered at the Somme; only Catholics were hanged for the United Irishmen's rebellion.

As the peace process continues to hold firm in the face of dissident republican terror threats, visits to the North by the English Royals should greatly boost the Irish Catholic Royalist movement.

The Queen should host a series of garden parties in the South so that Catholics across the island can feel part of the Catholic Royalist movement. Being a Royalist should not be viewed as being exclusively unionist or Protestant.

There have been a number of notable Catholic Royals the Irish have viewed as policing icons, including King James II, Mary Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Because of rapidly increasing apathy among Church-going Protestants, the unionist parties have had to court Catholic Unionism even more.

Given the threat from Islamic extremists, the English Royals may have to scrap the Act of Settlement to unite Christians of all denominations behind the Throne.

The Act of Settlement guaranteed that only a Prod bum would grace the English Throne. But in King Billy’s era, there was no global threat from moderate muslims who had converted to islamic radicalism.

A radicalised fundamentalist must never be allowed to ascend to the English Throne, otherwise Britain and Ireland’s rich Royal heritage will go down the drain.

The time has come to axe the Act of Settlement to ensure only a Christian – of whatever denomination – remains on the Throne.

The sooner Queen Elizabeth organises a ‘Garden Party Bonanza’ across the Republic, the quicker the Irish Royalist movement will gain a firm foothold across the island.

Catholic Royalism could become a very influential force in the future. It would also be a fitting honour to the hundreds of thousands of Irish Catholic soldiers who served, fought – and died – to ensure the Throne remained in existence.

And as the Royal Black Institution marching season shifts into top gear, it should not be forgotten that King Billy’s elite troops, the Dutch Blues, who clinched the Boyne in 1690 were predominantly Catholic.

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter. @JohnAHCoulter

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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