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SDLP's Master Plan

The biggest surprise to come out of the revived political talks about the future of Ulster has come from the ranks of John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party. A document leaked to the BBC and the Irish Times was a great departure from previous SDLP thinking. In the past, the SDLP argued for a form of internal power-sharing with an `Irish dimension' - some kind of administrative role for the Dublin government. They were not going to settle for anything less than they had been given in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.

At present Ulster is run by the unelected and unaccountable Northern Ireland Office. The Dublin government has a formal role in Ulster's affairs through regular meetings of ministers and the Maryfield Secretariat. The latest SDLP scheme aims to replace this with a new Commission. The Commission would be made up of six members, three of whom would be directly elected by single transferable vote. The remaining three members would be appointed by Westminster, Leinster House and Brussels. The President of the Commission would be the elected member who received most popular votes. This is certainly an ingenious plan, no doubt the fruits of the SDLP's current obsession with the European Community.

In the last General Election the SDLP took great pains to display its `European' credentials. Effective Irish `unity' is to be won through the back door of an integrated European Community. Previously the SDLP had expected the British to hand over Ulster gift-wrapped on a plate. Now the claim is made that borders are coming down all over Europe and that those who wish to maintain Ulster's border and separate identity are flying in the face of the unstoppable tide of history.

An editorial in the SDLP house journal, the Irish News, (January 2, 1992), argued that, "European union is most significant for the impact it will have on the national question ... In a uniting Europe Ireland, north and south will unite. The customs barriers will be removed and our fellow Europeans will increasingly come to regard Ireland as one single unit.,, This seem to us to be a very silly argument for the SDLP to maintain. It is after all supposed to be a nationalist party. If Ulster is an anachronism in the new European Community what of the Irish Republic? Indeed, what was the point of Ireland struggling to gain independence from English rule only to hand its sovereignty over to a European Superstate? Did they waste their time? Is this a tacit admission that the Irish Republic is a failed political entity? Perhaps it is! 

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