Sinn Féin backs SDLP motion on McCausland
A joint effort by the two main nationalist parties in the North to seek to exclude unionist extremist Nelson McCausland from holding a Ministerial position for three months is being seen as a potentially significant development.
The DUP ‘Minister for Social Development’ is accused of breaching the ministerial code when he lent support to loyalist bands who ignored the legally-binding rulings of the Parades Commission in north Belfast last month.
The nationalist SDLP said Mr McCausland “must be held accountable”, but DUP First Minister Peter Robinson had said his colleague had no case to answer.
Sinn Féin’s decision to support the SDLP motion marks the first time in years the party has backed away from its power-sharing pact with the DUP at Stormont.
Last week, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell said his party would be proposing a motion of censure over what his party regarded as Mr McCausland’s failure to condemn illegal acts and the openly sectarian displays outside St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street in north Belfast on 12 July and 25 August.
The Green Party is also to back the motion, while the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists have yet to make up their mind.
Announcing the support of Sinn Féin on Monday, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the motion was “designed solely to bring accountability back into politics”.
“I am also pleased that, after an extended period of discussion, Sinn Féin decided to make common cause with us in defence of decency and respect for all our communities,” Dr McDonnell said.
He said Mr McCausland had “broken his promise” and “must be held accountable”.
“We are disappointed that other parties did not sign the motion but we hope that they will join us on the floor of the house when the motion is debated,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s assembly group leader, Raymond McCartney, said Mr McCausland had displayed an “abdication of political leadership” and “repeatedly failed to condemn the sectarian behaviour of the bands and their supporters”.
“His behaviour as well as being an abdication of political leadership was a breach of his ministerial code,” he said.
“It is right that the assembly should debate this matter and we have agreed a text of a motion with the SDLP which will allow that to happen.”
Political commentator Brian Feeney said the move was “significant” given that Sinn Féin and the DUP had effectively been operating a “non-aggression pact” in government, with Sinn Féin acting as the junior partner.
He said the move would help to boost Sinn Féin’s credibility among northern nationalists.
“People were outraged at the remarks of Nelson McCausland and Sinn Féin realised that to sit there and say and do nothing and miss the opportunity to attack him in the assembly would not go down well with the grass roots,” he said.
COVENANT PARADE TALKS
Meanwhile, talks have been taking place in an effort to avoid trouble over the giant parade due to be held by unionists in Belfast next weekend, Saturday September 29. The march is set to criss-cross the city and involve most of the loyalist ‘kick-the-Pope’ bands which have created controversy over the summer.
The Parades Commission, which has the power to adjudicate on contentious parade, has delayed making a ruling, including whether to impose restrictions on the parade as it passes St Patrick’s church and the interface with the nationalist Carrick Hill area.
Hopes of avoiding the potential for confrontation between nationalist protesters and loyalist marchers began to fade this week when the Orange Order refused to meet Carrick Hill residents. Talks took place between the traditionally anti-Catholic organisation and St Patrick’s parish priest, Fr Michael Sheehan, but ended almost immediately.
Fr Sheehan said he was “bewildered” at the order’s lack of engagement with the local residents, who have applied to stage a protest involving up to 500 people.
“I am very disappointed that the residents who reached out with no objection to parades in principle or specific requirements for rerouting will not be engaged with in any way,” he said.
Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Committee, led by Frank Dempsey, accused the order of abusing the “sincerity, generosity and integrity” of Fr Sheehan for its own ends and failing to address the issue of respect for the nationalist community and its church.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, who met with both Fr Sheehan and the Carrick Hill residents this week, also criticised the Orange Order.
“We are almost 20 years into a peace process, which has been based upon dialogue and engagement with people who hold a different viewpoint,” he said.
“The position of refusing to talk is simply not tenable as we seek to achieve resolutions to contentious parades.
“The Orange Order are the only grouping in society here who consistently refuse to engage with their neighbours as a matter of policy.”