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Peter Hadden

Labour representation in Northern Ireland

(December 1976)

From The Irish Times, 28 December 1976.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.


Alan Carr (December 17th) is at pains to stress that the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) does not influence British Labour Party policy on Northern Ireland. Instead he quotes a chunk of that policy and comments on how close it is to present NILP thinking. The obvious conclusion we are supposed to draw is that the Northern Ireland Labour Party is the organisation which exercises the decisive influence on the outlook of Labour’s chiefs in London.

Why is it that leading spokesmen of both these parties are now falling backwards over themselves to prove that relations between them and the British Labour Party are healthy? For many years the NILP has enjoyed an annual grant from transport House. A few months ago the national executive committee of the British Labour Party cut off that grant. At the same time the NEC also decided that neither the NILP nor the SDLP conference would be graced by a fraternal representative of British Labour. Now, feeling the chill of rejection, Alan Carr and others are attempting to reassure us and themselves that all is still well.

The Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group have long argued that as presently constituted, neither the NILP nor the SDLP performs the role of a Labour Party. The British Labour Party’s stance is a confirmation of this opinion. The SDLP has always limited itself to a purely sectarian appeal. Politically it is a mish-mash of old style Nationalists, “moderate” middle class careerists, and a scattering of individuals with a Labour background. It has no links with the trade union movement.

On the other hand, the NILP can boast the affiliation of a few trade unions. This affiliation is, however, extremely tentative and is retained more because of the lack of an alternative than because of loyalty to that party. In recent years the NILP has degenerated beyond measure as its leaders gave more and more openly besmirched the party’s Socialist traditions with sectarianism. Ironically the same people who today preach about the good relations with British Labour are those, Alan Carr among them, who did most to sever this fraternal link. The total support given to the UWC stoppage repelled and drove away many of the NILP rank and file, particularly the trade unionists who had been active in the party. It placed another barrier between the party and the trade union movement. Now the horrible stench of their sectarian policies has even forced the upper echelons of the British Labour Party to hold their noses.

That the political bankruptcy of the NILP leadership and the nature of the SDLP leaves us without a Labour organisation and that this has been recognised by the British Labour Party, gives no cause for rejoicing. Unemployment, poor housing, the lowest wages of any region of the UK, together with the continuing sectarian violence are all factors which proclaim the need for a workers’ party. The present economic crisis has virtually ground the Northern Ireland economy into oblivion. One the basis of private enterprise there will be no upturn. For the working people this means a future of increasing poverty and misery. Sectarianism is a weed which flourishes under such conditions. Only a Labour organisation mobilising working people in the struggle to replace the anarchy of capitalist production with a planned Socialist economy could break this vicious cycle.

The British Labour Party NEC are sending a study group to investigate the situation within the Northern Ireland Labour movement. The Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group will be impressing upon this group the fact that the Northern Ireland trade union movement has the potential to build a broadly based party of labour. We will be urging them not to give credibility to sectarian politicians, no matter what titles they camouflage their views with, but instead to join us in pressing the trade union movement to step into political activity.


Yours etc.,
Peter Hadden
Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group

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