For all the focus on Unionists’ exclusive tendencies in recent months – and rightly so given their political leaders have been so overt about it – perhaps the most disappointing form has been shown by the SDLP. Yesterday, it openly voted for a continuation of sectarian discrimination – which even Sinn Fein opposed!
The SDLP likes to play all innocent on such things. “Oh, but anyone can go for the Catholic teaching certificate, you don’t have to be Catholic” – yet it is an obvious advantage to be Catholic. “Oh, but that’s like saying it’s an advantage to be Spanish to be a Spanish teacher” – there wasn’t a conflict costing nearly 4,000 lives in NI along Spanish/non-Spanish lines, nor is contemporary NI so divided. “Oh, but it’s about religious freedom” – no one is stopping churches providing classes for Holy Communion and such like, but I don’t see why the atheist, agnostic, Protestant or Muslim taxpayer should be funding it.
The real madness here is that clearly many of the SDLP’s own representatives couldn’t possibly hope to defend this line in reality. At the very same moment SDLP MLAs were voting on this issue, SDLP Councillors were arguing for same-sex marriage – in direct and blatant contravention of the Pope’s position. So it is important for children to be brought up Catholic, as long as they give it all up in adulthood…
The SDLP was also the only party to back an Alliance motion calling for the promotion of integrated education to be an expressly stated objective of the Department of Education’s area planning policy. That would be integrated education sans Catholic teaching certificates.
Fundamentally, we are back to the old maxim that the SDLP will tackle anything except the Catholic Church, Catholic schools (and teaching certificates) and the GAA. What kind of self-respecting social democratic and republican party would be so in thrall to religious and sporting institutions along sectarian lines? The SDLP is social democratic and republican in word, but fundamentally traditional and communal in deed.