11/11/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


Mark Carruthers looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy makers on the key issues.

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The Taoiseach and his deputy come north to join in services of


remembrance in Belfast and Enniskillen. We talk live to the


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Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland.


On this Remembrance Sunday, leading politicians from the Republic have


joined services here to honour the war dead. We talked to the Tanaiste


on why he felt he had to lay a wreath in Belfast.


And as the SDLP meets for its annual conference, we ask the party


leader what he has achieved one year into his job.


And casting an eye, Finnouala O'Connor and Jim Flanagan.


The Irish deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore laid a wreath at


Belfast City Hall this morning during Remembrance Day service.


This is the first time an Irish government has sent a


representative to the Remembrance Sunday event in the city. There


Taoiseach was in Enniskillen participating in the service of the


war memorial there, where an IRA bomb claimed the lives of 11 people


twenty-five years ago. Eamon Gilmore is with me now. Welcome to


Sunday Politics, by due for joining us. Why did you want to take part


in today's act of remembrance in Belfast? To remember all those who


died and he suffered in the great for us. Why do not think there is a


family or a community are a parish anywhere in Ireland that was not


touch by the Great War is that did not have -- by the Great Wars. This


is part of our shared history and the Irish government wanted to be


part of sharing that remembrance with the people of Belfast and


Northern Ireland. That is why I attended in Belfast and a Taoiseach


has attended in Enniskillen. It is the first time an Irish government


representative has officially attend the Remembrance event in


Belfast. We have seen pictures of the Taoiseach lay in the week in


Enniskillen. We are seen pictures if you blame you weave in Belfast.


The symbolism of both of you being in Northern Ireland will not be


lost on anyone. We have a shared history and we are in what we call


a decade of commemorations, we will commemorate 1912-1922. As part of


that decade of commemorations, it is important we remember together.


So much of this was a shared endeavour. Remember at the time of


the Great War, there were people from different parts of Ireland who


took part in the war, who suffered and died, and it is important that


we remember these things together and do so with respect, with


integrity and with dignity. We want it to be -- we wanted to be part of


that. If it is our shared history and understanding at the moment,


obviously that was not always the case. By using there is a palpable


change in the way the vast majority of people in the Republic view this


issue? Things are moving on. The constituency I represent in Dublin,


the first time we did a commemoration for the Leinster,


which was sunk just a month before Armistice Day 1918, hundreds of


soldiers were returning to the front in it, postal workers were


sorting letters, this had not been talked about in our history and it


was significant that when we did decide to commemorate its, that


there were families from all over Ireland who came forward and said,


I had her grandfather on that ship, or someone belonging to me. -- I


had a grandfather. There is a strong sense of people throughout


the island who want to remember these events and want to remember


them with respect. There was real change, per minute change,


meaningful change in people's attitudes in the south, you would


in fact be leading a national event at remembering the war dead in


Dublin rather than coming to Belfast and Enniskillen? There is


still some way to go. We have a national day of commemoration every


July. We are talking about Remembrance Sunday. The President


of Ireland will attend an event in St Patrick's Cathedral, just as his


predecessors have done over many years. We have been commemorating


these events. What is different today is that we are commemorating


these events here in Belfast, in my case, and in Enniskillen in the


case of the Taoiseach. There have been events of commemoration and


remembrance in Dublin, a national day of commemoration in July and a


commemoration by the President on Remembrance Sunday. I understand


that and know that has taken place. Do you think an event similar to


the event in Belfast or Enniskillen would be something Dublin would


welcome in the centre of the city, not associated with a church, that


featured the President, Prime Minister, polished up and everyone


who wanted to assemble in that way? -- Tanaiste and everyone. It is


important to remember everything that took place, this shared


experience of families, irrespective of whether they were


from Belfast or court. When news came back that somebody was missing


or had lost their life, it was the same sadness and sorrow suffered by


the family, the widow, the people who were left behind. I think that


is a shared experience, but we remember right across the island,


and it is appropriate that we do it in different ways, we direct our


own way, but that we share in that memory and in that experience. Also


it is important that we share in the conviction that it should not


happen again. In remembering war, one of the things we should always


commit ourselves to doing is making sure it is not repeated and that we


work to maintain peace, whether on this island or internationally.


we just talk about party politics. The Fianna Fail leader Micheal


Martin and launched a scathing attack against Sinn Fein in an


interview I did with him on our political programme of Thursday


night. He was criticising Sinn Fein for demonstrating against the


charging of one of its members in connection with the murder of


Robert McCartney. Are you are uncomfortable with her Sinn Fein


handled the issue? We have to support the police service of


Northern Ireland in what they do in investigating crime, irrespective


of what crime it is. The PSNI, its strength is to do that impartially.


That is what we have all sought down the years. There cannot be, in


my view, any partial investigation of crimes. The PSNI have to


investigate crimes and take whatever action they have to take,


arrest whoever they have to arrest in connection with crimes. But has


to be done without fear or favour and should not be subject to


political influence of any kind. I want to bring in our commentators.


Jim Flanagan, you were in Enniskillen on the day of the Bomb


25 years ago. How do you think people there will feel about the


Taoiseach taking part in the act of remembrance this morning? I am


delighted he is in Enniskillen today. He will be warmly welcomed


by the community down there. I was in Enniskillen that date and I


vividly remember the scenes of devastation and the subsequent


human heartbreak visited upon the community. That particular incident


was a violation against humanity. A group of people were gathering to


honour the dead, of all religions and none. Progress, Finnouala?


course it is. Up until a couple of years ago, Eamon Gilmore would not


have been welcome in Belfast. Attitudes have changed at different


paces in different places. Many Unionists were not have welcomed


anyone from the Irish government turning up at the City Hall. The


fact that he and Enda Kenny have been able to come is not just


movement in Dublin, but Ms mature as well. You will be encouraged to


hear to perspective political commentators are supporting the


move you have taken as a government? -- two respective


political commentators. I was also encouraged by the warm reception I


got this morning, the great sense of being among people who welcomes


me here. Yeah were there with the First Minister and the lord mayor


of Belfast, be DUP's Gavin Robinson. -- the DUP's Gavin Robinson. Did


you talk to them? Yes, we talk all the time about common interests on


the island. I met with Peter Robinson and the Deputy First


Minister jester or four weeks ago. -- just over a week ago. I met with


Theresa Villiers in Dublin. I was delighted to be in City Hall this


morning. Last time I was there it was at her local authority events


several years ago. BG get a sense that Peter Robinson and the leader


of the DUP in Northern Ireland was glad to see you there? We have a


standing invitation from the City Council and I expect attendance by


the Irish government will be a normal part of this event from


hereon. What message will you take home to Dublin after today's


Defence? The message that I will take home is how important this


remembrance days to be people who were there, to be -- to those who


have a strong sense of the suffering that took place in the


war and how important it is that the Irish government be represented


at events like this in Northern Ireland. Thank you for coming in.


More from our commentators later in the programme.


Should be SDLP going to opposition at Stormont? That was one idea


raised at the annual conference this weekend. Some activists see it


as a logical step forward, arguing it will hold the Executive to


account. Others see it is to bigger risk and should only be considered


in the long time. In a moment I will be talking to the SDLP leader.


Let's hear from our political correspondent.


Around the conference., political metaphors are everywhere. Is there


a lot about to change and are we witnessing the substance or spend -


- spin? Dolores Kelly sparked debate. She wants the party to


consider going into opposition at Stormont. I think opposition can


work as an accountable mechanism for people to get involved in the


real politics and real policies and manifestos of political parties.


The SDLP's sole Minister is Alex Attwood. Does he feel it is time to


leave the Executive? I can see a system of government in the future


that has an opposition. The issue is, is this the time and place to


prepare for that? How did the rank and file of view the prospect of


opposition? In the long term it must be a viable option, but is


what democracy involved. involves. It is something we should


be thinking about. Be it is getting to the stage where it is inevitable,


we cannot keep going the way we are doing. It is a power-sharing


Executive, power-sharing legislator and at the minute, I do not think


it is time for an opera Sassoon -- opposition. We need to stay there


at the men it. -- at the minute. much attention was on Alasdair


McDonnell's keynote address. He claimed that the DUP and Sinn Fein


were engaged in phoney disputes. Let me tell them, the time for


plain schoolboy politics has long gone. This was a speech that


touched on many key SDLP themes such as peace, prosperity and


reconciliation. What Alasdair McDonnell did not talk about in


detail with the issue of opposition, a subject close to his deputy


leader's card. Some comfort -- some observers say opposition could be


the way forward. Do the people of Northern Ireland need an


opposition? The SDLP have been rewarded by the public one may have


been at their boldest and bravest. Just because it doesn't exist


doesn't mean we should not vote for it. Alasdair McDonnell says his


party's fight back is under way. On the horizon, they made Ulster by-


election and a European election. Very soon, the party can decide if


the leader is going in the right direction.


Alasdair McDonnell joins me now. Your first speech as leader last


year was not widely judged as a great success. Did you feel you


made up for lost ground yesterday? Yesterday I said what I had to say.


I had a lot of ground to cover. I was very happy with the conference.


You must have been annoyed about the debate about opposition. You


signed off yesterday and recovered the speech. I saw every minute of


it. You signed off with a rallying call for delegates to work to get


SDLP back to the heart of government again. The night before,


you deputy was calling delegates to move into position. I think she


said simply that we should considerate and we will. She said,


should not we be thinking about whether this is going? We could


lose our soul If we stay in the Executive. I think the SDLP's grown


-- role is to build a future and to create a prosperity process for a


Northern Ireland. That sounds like a mixed message. She used a stay at


the heart of government, she says get out of it. Fine, people want to


mix it. We are now at the beginning of a process, we will discuss that.


From my perspective, the objective is not to put the SDLP into


opposition. My objective is to win back seats and put us right back at


the heart. The problem is, we have stagnation in Stormont. Without the


SDLP driving and coming up with ideas it will not move on. The way


you run the people to your standard is by having at Clear clarion call,


a clear message. It looks like the leader saying one thing and the


deputy leader saying something else. We do not have an army council. We


are a democratic party. That is different from an agreed policy,


you do not seem to have that. have agreed policies offer a range


of things. We have agreed policies over efforts to create prosperity


and holding the present Executive to account. If you want people to


join new to get the SDLP back above heart of government, why would you


tell me you want to start a discussion about going into


opposition, which is what you have just said? We will discuss


opposition in context because it may be an option. You have to


discuss all of the options. There is no place at the moment, no place


on the schedule of things at the moment, called opposition. There is


no role for an opposition. From my perspective, and others are free to


disagree with me or to think of it as a good idea, and ensure it will


be discussed, -- I am sure it will be discussed, there is no place


called opposition, there is no role at for opposition and we will be to


some extent limiting our capacity to influence. We have been working


for months with the Irish government around a whole array of


things as to how we ensure the next decade is a decade of respect and


reconciliation rather than further conflict. That is where we are at


our best, with ideas and ambition and bringing people together.


said you would lead the regeneration of your party in your


first year as leader. You said yesterday in your speech, and I


underline bid, the party is stronger than a year ago. Where is


the evidence? 12 months on, you are down in the polls and a personal


approval rating has slumped to the bottom of the five main party


leaders. That is fine. Those were not the same polls from the


conference. We had a buoyant confidence -- conference yesterday.


That is your delegates. This is from the population generally.


have a party that is moving. We had at conference with more active


young people. I have brought in 40 new local representatives. There is


a buoyancy and urgency and an ambition in the SDLP that has not


been there for a while. At the Assembly election you had 14.2%.


The latest poll in Northern Ireland you can't -- had 13%. The European


elections in 18 months' time, that is my objective. It will count in


June, 2014, when we have elections to Europe. I can promise you, our


vote will be well up. You think you are moving in the right direction?


I am confident. If you had spoken to anyone at a conference he would


have known that. Remembering the past has been a


dominant theme in a political story as we'd be back at the week in 60


seconds. -- in a political story as we look


back at the week. In Cookstown, hundreds attended the


funeral of David Platt, murdered by dissident republicans. Every sane


person in Milan believes that those who carried out the killing are


odious, pain filled deviance and psychopaths who should be locked up


for life. 25 years on, the people of


Enniskillen remembered those who died when the IRA exploded a bomb


at the town's war memorial in 1987. At car parking charges are to be


frozen for three years as part of a �2 habits 1,000 economic package


announced by the Executive. -- �200,000.


One of Northern Ireland's biggest building firms went into


administration putting jobs at risk. Give some leadership and tell them


were used stand today. -- bird you stand.


Finnouala and Jim Flanagan are still with me. Let's talk about the


SDLP conference and Alasdair McDonnell. First, the idea of


opposition. Is it a red herring? is a red herring. It seems a


distraction. It is not what politics are now been Ireland is


going to be about for a considerable time. -- in Northern


Ireland. These are abnormal arrangements. It is the best we


could do, it is an arrangement that brings everybody in. What is more


significant is for Alasdair McDonnell is losing motions about


internal reorganisation. His biggest strength has always been


energy. His ability to energise the party that really struggles to find


a role, that is true. Without it, both them and the Ulster Unionist


are hoists in Stormont. The best he can do is appeared to voters. 18


months from now will not be about their position in opposition but


how loudly they met. The the issue of opposition was introduced by


Dolores Kelly. They were not prepared to take his advice?


says they are a party in trouble. The SDLP is struggling, having been


for a very long time the leader of the nationalist political opinion.


It is normal that there are difficult and different opinions.


Is the party in trouble? Possibly. I do not know whether to Loris


Kelly cleared what she said with him or whether he knew it was


coming up. -- Dolores Kelly. Four now, he would rather be inside the


tent looking out. He gave a clue that he did not want to lead the


SDLP in to opposition. Forever and a date was the phrase he used. That


would be his concern, given the rise of Sinn Fein that he could be


locking the door for good. What precisely does the need to do? He


says he is confident that despite what the polls suggest he is moving


in the right direction. This that ring true? It is from a very low


position. It is a question of making the best of a bad job. After


a rocky start that is what he is doing. It does not matter if there


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