A very interesting post at South Belfast Diary, where (an angry) Jenny has mounted the leaked section from the Irish Labour Party’s now delayed 21st Century Commission dealing with Northern Ireland. The short version is that the Irish Labour Party has ruled out standing in elections in NI while the SDLP still exists, and Eamon Gilmore has written to NI members confirming that this is the case. Should the SDLP merge with Fianna Fáil, which is now no longer a serious possibility, the Irish Labour Party would hope to use the Party of European Socialists to avoid having to organise in NI.
If the SDLP, in whole or in part, chooses at some future stage to merge or create formal links with Fianna Fáil then it would automatically lose its membership of the PES. In all likelihood, in those circumstances a potion of SDLP members would decline to follow the party into such a merger or alliance. It would then be important that we, along with the British Labour Party, ensure that the social democratic and labour movement is adequately represented in Northern Ireland politics. Under the Statutes of the PES it would be possible for the new party to allow for dual membership for Northern Ireland members. Accordingly, an activist could be a member of the new party and the Irish or British Labour Party. Such a provision could accommodate the dual community identity (“British or Irish or both”) that remains at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.
Instead, the Commission recommends increased coordination with the SDLP, in pursuit of what I can only describe as a bizarre interpretation of the 1916 Proclamation’s line about cherish all the children of the nation equally:
Such a covenant would entail:
· A community where no child is ever left behind because of disability, or left out because of colour
· A Nation where to be a child of Ireland does not have to mean a child of Irish parents
· A society where parents of an autistic child do not have to research, lobby and petition various service providers as though they are the first
· A culture where young women are safer on our streets and young men are safer on our roads
· An island where children and their families will be protected against persecution and prejudice as well as poverty
· An economy that invests in the skills and values the talents of all young people including those with learning disabilities
· A country whose services and systems, laws and budgets truly proclaim “Every Child is our Child”.
As I pointed out in the comments at South Belfast Diary, this should come as no surprise. One of the main motivations behind the decision of Gilmore and the other five TDs who split from The Workers’ Party in 1992 in pursuit of a move to the right and government positions, was to cut their ties with the north so they could concentrate on the south. Although the Democratic Left did organise in NI during its brief existence, and even stand in elections, it never gave much attention to the north. When DL was wound up, its northern members were told to join the SDLP, despite the fact that for several decades they had been arguing that it was as much a part of sectarian politics in NI as any other party. It seemed when the Irish Labour Party agreed to accept members in the north, that they had been offered another chance, but this has now been revealed for the purely cosmetic exercise it always was.
So where does that leave the people who are in the Labour Party in the north? They can try and get permission from the British Labour Party to stand in elections, but this looks like being a long way off, given that they were only allowed to join after a court case. I also suspect that many of the NI members see themselves as more left wing than New Labour, and would not be entirely comfortable with it. Many of these people are genuine about wanting strong socialist politics in Northern Ireland, and about fighting sectarianism. I think that they will have to look elsewhere. Even if an organisation like The Workers’ Party would be too far to the left for many, the ongoing discussions about an agreed left candidate in Europe or some such coalition in the future may provide them with a home that allows them to be active on all fronts.