SDLP run true to form
The SDLP strategy of appeasement of unionists at any cost, which we have witnessed for many years in arenas such as Belfast City Council, is beginning to emerge within the Assembly. In three key debates since 17 January, the SDLP have allowed the No camp of unionism to put forward and win votes on motions on decommissioning, flags and the Patten Commission on policing.
Sinn Féin approached the SDLP in relation to each of these motions asking them to sign a Petition of Concern. A petition of concern requires the signature of 30 members, which automatically triggers a vote to require cross-community support on any issue. If the SDLP had supported the petition of concern, motions calling for decommissioning, condemning Health Minister Bairbre de Brún for refusing to fly the Union flag on its own atop departmental buildings and allowing the unionists to pass a motion in support of the RUC would have fallen.
The mechanisms for utilising petitions of concern were negotiated during the peace process as a safeguard to ensure that the Assembly was not run on the basis of simple unionist majority rule.
While none of these motions have any legal standing, this step by the SDLP has allowed the no camp within unionism to pursue its sectarian policies, which quite clearly do not have cross-party support. It also sends out signals both to the nationalist community and internationally that the Assembly as a body is opposed to the new beginning in policing as required under the Good Friday Agreement.