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an Lucht Oibre

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In recent years this island has begun to glimpse a brighter future – a dramatic reduction in violence, increasing growth in our economy; the development of all-island co-operation; power transferred to our own representatives to run our affairs and unemployment at its lowest level for 25 years. This progress has only been possible as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP set out to build a new Ireland based on human rights, partnership and respect for all traditions; we have delivered our core goals of power-sharing in the North, strong all-Ireland bodies as part of a far-reaching North-South agenda and good working relations with Britain. We are proud of the fact that these are central elements of the Good Friday Agreement. With your continued support we can now make greater progress in rebuilding this society and this economy. In this respect our core aims are the elimination of poverty and unemployment through the development of a high-wage, high-skill, socially just economy, supported by well-funded and efficient public services. We have delivered the peace. Now we are delivering progress and prosperity.

Where it Counts, When it Counts

We are working to unite the people of Ireland through the development of agreed political structures which can provide a framework for a healing process between our divided people. The SDLP believes the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement presents our best opportunity to do that. We are working where it counts, when it counts on the issues that count. The SDLP is operating every aspect of the Agreement to the advantage of the whole community. Our party is the only one in the Executive playing a full and constructive role and adhering to all the requirements of the Agreement. Long-standing SDLP policies are reflected throughout the Programme for Government. In the North-South Ministerial Council, we are working to establish new partnerships that can deliver benefits for the whole island.

Delivering at Westminster

In the House of Commons the SDLP defends the rights and needs of the people of Northern Ireland across the range of matters not yet devolved to our new institutions. This is how we secured key improvements to the Police Bill, laying down over 100 amendments to the legislation and making the case for change on the floor of the House of Commons. The following key issues will be debated at Westminster during the next parliament. The SDLP will be there to represent your views.

  • Justice Review
  • Bill of Rights
  • Funding for Northern Ireland
  • Drugs policy
  • Fiscal autonomy for the Assembly
  • Entry to Single European Currency

Delivering partnership politics in Local Government

Since the 1970s, the SDLP has led the way by initiating power-sharing arrangements at Council level. Following the Agreement, this partnership approach is now reflected in the voting arrangements for the Assembly. We are continuing our work to build new and stronger partnerships in local communities, giving effective representation and comprehensive constituency advice service. SDLP Councillors are working to create jobs, improve services and secure better facilities especially in areas of social and economic need. They have also worked to build all-island partnerships through establishing cross-border relations with neighbouring Councils.

This manifesto is designed to inform you about the policies of the SDLP and about the kind of society we want to build. This is our vision. Vote for the SDLP and make it a reality.



I. Economic Development

Creating Jobs & Securing Investment p. 3

Promoting the Rural Economy p. 4

Budgeting for success p. 5

Building skills: higher & further education and training p. 6

Building capacity: developing infrastructure p. 7

Protecting our Natural Resources p. 8

Public Administration p. 8

II. Social Development

Education p. 9

Health p. 9

Housing p. 11

Social Security p. 11

Culture and Sport p. 12

III. Equality, Human Rights & Reconciliation

Equality and Targeting Social Need p. 13

Human Rights p. 15

Victims of the conflict & community relations p. 15

IV. Justice and Policing p. 16


V. EU and International Relations 
p. 17


I. Economic Development

The political progress of recent years has already brought significant economic benefits for Northern Ireland. At 5.1%, unemployment is at its lowest for 25 years - and well below the EU average, while investment has increased by almost 40% since 1998. The SDLP has been at the forefront of efforts to bring new industries to the North, using its international connections to rebuild our economy rather than to fill party coffers. However, much remains to be done. Globalisation and the advent of new technologies have transformed the working world; the new economy will depend on knowledge, skills, innovation, enterprise and, crucially, people.

Securing Investment & Creating Jobs

A core aim of the SDLP is to achieve a high standard of living for all in society, through the sustainable development of a high-skill, high-wage, socially just economy. The SDLP is committed to the social partnership model of employment and we welcome recent improvements in workers’ rights legislation. It is a key objective of the SDLP to ensure a fair geographical spread of employment opportunities throughout Northern Ireland.

In Westminster we will work to achieve:

  • entry into the single European currency
  • an increase in the minimum wage to £5 per hour in the context of an improved minimum income guarantee

SDLP priorities in the Assembly:

  • maximise North-South co-operation in job creation and economic development: co-operation of economic support agencies to create a stronger marketing organisation for the island; development of all-Ireland investment strategy; maximise the role and potential of Inter-Trade Ireland
  • movement from low-tech industries into hi-tech developments including increased investment in Research and Development. The creation of a new Technology Commission could prove useful in identifying opportunities in software, electronics, information technology and communications
  • better targeting of investment and support in areas of social and economic need;
  • maximise the potential of the North-South body on Tourism to expand the industry
  • strongly encourage the Dublin government to invest more in border areas
  • investment in Research and Development including the establishment of an effective bio-technology strategy to explore potential in a rapidly developing sector
  • Green Economy Task-Force should be created to make local businesses fully aware of the economic and environmental costs of their actions, to illustrate the potential savings from the more efficient use of resources and the reduction of waste, and to show the potential of new markets for environmentally-friendly products

At Local Government level we will:

  • work in partnership with employers to create jobs in all parts of Northern Ireland.

Promoting the Rural Economy

The SDLP is working in partnership with rural communities to remedy the serious problems faced by the agricultural industry. We recognise the significant decline in incomes suffered by farming families and the impact this has had on rural life and on the economy as a whole. However, the SDLP firmly believes that through creative policies, developing export markets, utilising new technologies and examining opportunities for diversification, we can revitalise the rural economy. This will require co-operation between government departments and innovative approaches to education and training, regional development infrastructure and the provision of public services.

Having SDLP Ministers in government has already made a real difference:-

  • agriculture budget up nearly 10% (total £190 million);
  • after 30 years of neglect, the small farmer has finally been recognised with allocation of milk quota on a targeted basis to smaller dairy producers;
  • 24,000 new training places for farmers;
  • joint animal health strategies with the South being prepared to tackle animal disease on an all-Ireland basis;
  • persuaded UK Govt to draw down agri-monetary compensation to protect farmers from impact of UK opt-out of Euro;
  • acted swiftly and decisively to curb the outbreak of Foot and Mouth

In Westminster and in Europe we will:

  • work to achieve low-incidence BSE status so that Northern Ireland is distinguished from the UK in its dealings with the EU
  • support a vigorous European Marketing campaign for our agricultural produce;
  • protect the particular interests of Northern Ireland farmers in the review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP);
  • maintain pressure on the British government to draw down all agri-monetary funding

In the Assembly we will work to:

  • redress the damage of thirty years of direct rule by promoting social and economic regeneration of our disadvantaged rural communities through a policy of sustainable development;
  • support "rural-proofing" of all government policies to check that farming communities are not disadvantaged;
  • work towards restructuring of the agricultural industry including development of an early retirement scheme for farmers;
  • promote organic farming with due regard for the costs associated;
  • work to develop stronger links between rural development and tourism and maximise potential benefits of the ‘Leader’ programme;
  • develop better all-Ireland co-operation on all agriculture and rural development issues, and in particular on an all-Ireland FMD recovery strategy.

In local government we will:

  • work to support rural communities in the development of services and opportunities

Budgeting for Success

The SDLP is pledged to ensure good management of public funds without losing sight of social democratic principles. We are committed to the development of effective and well-resourced public services as a foundation of a growing economy and a thriving society. In practice this means the SDLP is committed to using public money in pursuit of social democratic and equality-driven goals, to deliver, for example, extra resources to health, education, regional development and other public services. We believe that direct and graded taxation must remain the primary method of funding such services but we are prepared to be creative about generating additional financial support on the condition that public benefit can be guaranteed in terms of transparency, accountability, and value for money.

Already Northern Ireland has benefited enormously from having an SDLP Finance Minister:

  • driven the creation of Executive Programme Funds to support children in need, community regeneration, investment in public services and infrastructure and economic innovation; also launched review of deprivation indicators to inform policy development and support targeting social need;
  • worked to secure in excess of £1 billion in European funding including Peace 11 and the Building Sustainable Prosperity Programme
  • initiated Senior Civil Service Review to address under-representation of certain groups in society including women, Catholics and minority ethnic groups
  • accommodation Review initiated to examine government needs and scope for decentralisation;
  • delivered a budget agreed by all Ministers;
  • provided and promoted funding of free public transport for pensioners.

In Westminster we will work for:

  • an increase in resources allocated to Northern Ireland on the basis that the Barnett formula unfairly disadvantages this region;
  • fiscal discretion for Northern Ireland to ensure the tax regime is consistent with our needs;
  • a reduction in corporation tax to enhance international investment in the North of Ireland.

In the Assembly we will work to:

  • build on the findings of the current reviews to ensure efficient and well-informed management of the public purse, to protect the vulnerable, reach out to the marginalised, and underpin the economic foundations of the new beginning;
  • decentralise government functions to ensure that they are more equitably spread across the North;
  • monitor the Senior Civil Service Review and push for the rapid implementation of policies to deliver equal participation in all ranks of the civil service by all groups in society;
  • ensure that public procurement of goods and services is based on sound criteria to ensure value for money as well as promoting government policy such as, equality issues, targeting social need;

Increasing skills: Further & Higher Education & Training

The nature and quality of third level education and training offered to learners of all ages, will determine to a large extent the shape of our economy in years to come. It will therefore have tremendous implications for the level of unemployment and the associated problems of poverty, health and crime. SDLP policies are now delivering extra resources to FE Colleges to address years of under-funding. We are working to build parity of esteem for ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ training.

The SDLP is committed to targeting "at risk" groups such as the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities, to assist them to avail of training opportunities. We believe the focus of efforts to tackle unemployment, such as New Deal, must centre on the provision of individual support as well as training to enable people to acquire the skills and the confidence to enter the job-market, with greater opportunities and choices.

Already the North has seen the benefits of having SDLP Ministers in power:

  • £65 million delivered for student financial support in further and higher education; resources targeted at those most in need so that fewer students pay tuition fees and grants have been re-introduced for those from lower income families;
  • £3.7 million delivered to Further Education Colleges; fees abolished for a range of FE courses;
  • commitment given to create 5400 additional student places by 2005;
  • launch of Taskforce on Employability and Long-term Unemployment.

The SDLP will work at Westminster to:

  • secure additional funding to raise further the level of student financial support available
  • ensure that New Deal works to address needs of the community in Northern Ireland

The SDLP will work in the Assembly to:

  • advance the lifelong learning initiative through greater support for adults returning to education and flexibility in access to degree courses
  • provide new training opportunities to address the serious numeracy and literacy problems affecting one in four of the population in the North
  • ensure the financial independence of all young adults in full-time education or training while targeting available resources at those most in need; in particular, mature students, people with disabilities, those from lower-income backgrounds
  • address skills shortages and enhance partnership between educational institutions and business sector, review training needs to ensure that courses are stimulating and relevant, enhancing employability and personal development
  • introduce foundation degrees, improve access opportunities and meet skills needs
  • promote North-South co-operation in employment and learning including cross-border student and lecturer exchanges and cross-border advertisements.

At Local Government level, the SDLP will work to:

  • build relationships between Further Education Colleges, local businesses and Councils to enhance community development.

Building Capacity: developing infrastructure

Regional development strategy is fundamental to the establishment of a new society in the North of Ireland. Our transport, energy, water and sewerage systems require long-term investment and planning to reverse years of decay and to lay a foundation for growth. Since its foundation, Northern Ireland has experienced uneven social and economic development, which contributed to the social and political upheaval of the past.

The SDLP is working to achieve social inclusion and economic growth through balanced and sustainable regional development, determined strategically with reference to an all-Ireland and European context, addressing both the needs of urban and rural communities and taking into account environmental and quality of life issues. This means in practice that everyone should have fair and ready access to services, jobs, hospitals, housing and public transport.The SDLP s led the way in prominent campaigning on these vital issues, for e

  • The SDLP has been working to achieve free public transport for pensioners since 1977: SDLP Annual Conference – Motion 119 "Conference demands that senior citizens be granted unconditional free transport, free television licences and free electricity."
  • Consistent campaigning by the SDLP on the need for an improved rail service has contributed to the ongoing railway taskforce review.

The SDLP priorities in this area are:

  • an all-island strategic development framework - joint infrastructural development schemes in border zones to enhance social and economic welfare for people on both sides of the border
  • the creation of an all-island energy market to achieve economies of scale and competitiveness, and the extension of natural gas throughout Northern Ireland
  • comprehensive regional development strategy to include provision for the expansion of the physical infrastructure of the ICT sector, including broadband and ISDN, to enable companies to compete in the modern economy
  • decisive action on the future of the Ports; land around Belfast port should be used for economic regeneration
  • creation of serviced space for quality investment including hi-tech business parks
  • major investment in upgrade of water and sewerage systems.

On regional transport strategy, the SDLP prioritises:

  • social inclusion and choice for customers and users in urban and rural settings
  • reduction in travel-to-work congestion
  • upgrading and development of existing railway provision consistent with highest safety standards and implementation of proposals for light-rail solution for Belfast ("BART")
  • additional investment in roads and public transport where rail services do not exist
  • substantially increased investment in public transport on an ongoing basis to provide a key element in regenerating our economy.

Protecting our Natural Resources

Crucial to our existence, is the protection of our natural environment, to ensure that we hand on to future generations the clean air, pure water and healthy plant and animal life on which their own lives will depend. Sustainable development, the protection of bio-diversity and European/international co-operation, are at the heart of SDLP environmental policy.

SDLP priorities on the environment:

  • Sustainable Development: We will lobby for the setting up of an independent Environmental Protection Agency to act as a watchdog and advise on public interest.
  • Planning: We will put pressure on government to accelerate the publication of local Area Plans and examine these to assess whether they have been adequately co-ordinated on various levels: across Councils boundaries, between Councils and other strategies, e.g. economic development and on a North-South basis.
  • Protection of the Countryside: The SDLP will work in the Assembly to secure the early publication of a government implementation programme and timetable for the Biodiversity proposals released June 99. We will campaign for a three-year action programme to improve waterways and water quality and to reduce air emissions to meet Kyoto targets. The SDLP supports the "polluter pays" principle. We will lobby for the introduction of an Educational Programme on Environmental Protection and we will campaign to expand our native woodland. We will oppose the introduction of GM items to the food chain without proper testing.
  • Waste Management: The SDLP will work towards reduction of waste as a priority followed by re-use, recycling and energy recovery in order of preference. We will work to secure increased targets for recycling waste and enhanced effort to find and generate markets for recycled goods, including a public awareness campaign. We would support the introduction of a packaging tax to reduce waste.
  • Environment & Heritage: We will lobby for co-operation between DETI and DOE and Environmental departments to ensure the development of an improved habitat protection scheme.
  • Road Safety: The SDLP seeks the adoption of an action plan to tackle road deaths, involving education, road safety measures and law enforcement.

In Local Government we will work to:

  • protect natural habitats, conserve resources, encourage recycling and promote awareness;
  • promote co-ordinated approach to maintenance and development of recreational areas, greenspace, public pathways and conservation areas;

Public Administration

The SDLP has not just changed the form of government but the face of government also. We pioneered partnership government; we drove the reorganisation of government departments to make them more coherent; now we are promoting partnership between government and other interests as we promoted the social partnership model for the delivery of European funding.

The SDLP has voiced concerns over many years about the structure and operation of the "quangos" which administer a very significant proportion of the budget for the North. The forthcoming review of public administration will address these issues as well as the structure and function of local government. The SDLP will campaign on the basis of key principles of – equality, openness, accountability, efficiency, cross-community involvement and ‘subsidiarity’ (keeping government close to the people).


II. Social Development


Education is a cornerstone of our society; it is a key driver of the economy as well as a fundamental human right. The SDLP wants to see children and young people taught and cared for in a way that:

  • encourages them to develop their full potential in terms of creative, vocational, academic, sporting or other skills, and to cope with whatever difficulties they may have or encounter
  • prepares young people to play a full role in society as responsible, confident citizens aware of their own and others’ rights and responsibilities
  • equips students with the skills necessary to gain employment and live as independently as possible.

SDLP priorities on education:

  • equality of opportunity, parental and student choice, social inclusion and parity of esteem between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ education;
  • provision of fully-funded pre-school places for all children;
  • to contribute to the curriculum review, encouraging for example, consideration of the benefits of early second-language learning and prolonged ‘informal learning’ (learning through play);
  • the end of selection at eleven and the introduction of all-ability co-educational education within the sector of choice (controlled, maintained, integrated or Irish-language);
  • widening curriculum options in all-ability schools to include "vocational" subjects from age 14;
  • to support initiatives that will broaden the post-16 curriculum to maintain the widest number of career options for young people;
  • investment in school buildings to eliminate use of mobile classrooms;
  • promote inclusion in mainstream education of those with physical or learning difficulties;
  • fair and equitable funding for all schools while actively targeting social need;
  • development of ICT facilities and skills in all schools;
  • supporting the right of auxiliary staff to full-time contracts based on the calendar year.

At Local Government level we will:

  • work to build partnerships with schools to maximise the supervised use of school facilities for the benefit of the community.


Health, Social Services & Public Safety

Statistics consistently show that Northern Ireland has a very poor record in terms of the health of the population – high rates for coronary heart disease, cancer and mental health problems. Health standards are well below the European average on these and many other comparitors. The SDLP has campaigned to draw attention to the links between health and poverty, education and employment. We want to see an integrated strategy linking all relevant departments in a concerted attempt to improve the health of all, with increased emphasis on prevention. Although funding is clearly a central issue, the SDLP will work to highlight the need for better management of existing resources.

SDLP priorities on health:

  • Primary care: the replacement of GP fund-holding as soon as possible with an accountable, efficient and modernised system, guaranteeing fair distribution of resources and enhanced partnerships between medical professionals and user representatives. Greater resources should be invested to deliver a primary-care led health service and reduce numbers requiring secondary health care.
  • Health Administration: a reduction in tiers of management in the health service and greater co-ordination between health and other administrative boundaries eg. Council boundaries.
  • Staff and skills shortages: increased numbers of doctors and nurses and greater numbers of other specialist staff to address shortages, e.g. occupational therapists, theatre nurses.
  • Acute Hospitals: decisions on acute hospital provision based on principles of accessibility, safety and fairness which address the needs of rural communities.
  • Public Health: greater co-operation between departments to secure greater awareness-raising and more spending on preventative action;
  • Children’s services: rapid implementation of the Assembly Health Committee’s report on Residential Care for Children. There is a shortage of places for children who require care and an inappropriate situation where children in need of psychiatric help are placed in adult wards. Children currently in care or who have spent time in care, require greater support during childhood and in making the transition to independent adult life.
  • Long-term care for the Elderly: to lobby for the implementation of the Royal Commission’s proposals to guarantee treatment to older people on the basis of need.
  • North-South Co-operation: the SDLP will work to advance the "Co-operation and Working Together" (CAWT) initiative promoting cross-border links and sharing resources in the interests of efficient, high-quality patient care.
  • Ambulance Service: investment is urgently required; additional resources could reap significant benefits, given technological advances and in the context of a rural population.
  • Mental Health: greater public awareness of mental health issues is essential and would lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment would help address the consequential social problems that often arise. Extra capital funding is required to improve standards in residential care settings; and an information campaign should be undertaken. Rising suicide rates reflect these concerns. The SDLP will campaign for a co-ordinated approach between relevant services, to tackle youth suicide and para-suicidal behaviour.
  • Cancer Services: action is required to improve co-ordination as services are transferred from Belvoir Hospital to Belfast City Hospital. Greater numbers of skilled staff are required
  • Support for Carers: unpaid carers in society subsidise the health service and should be given greater financial and medical support.
  • Drugs: the SDLP is working to advance the agenda of the inter-departmental working group on drugs and supports a constructive, holistic approach to the drugs problem to address the range of background issues associated with drug abuse.

At Local Government level we will:

  • defend the right of communities in every area to quality, accessible health and social care.


Housing & Community Development

Since its formation, the SDLP has campaigned for adequate housing for all as a fundamental human right. We believe that there continues to be a need for publicly owned and maintained housing stock. As soon as the Assembly was created we began a campaign to highlight the inadequacy and unfitness of housing in some areas, the lack of affordable housing in Belfast and the need for more co-ordinated urban planning in areas of new development.

The SDLP is working to:

  • increase the budget to ensure an ongoing "new build" role for the Housing Executive, in providing quality, affordable public housing;
  • win support for a wide-ranging review of the arrangements under which the Housing Associations operate in connection with public housing including cost, availability and standards of maintenance;
  • address the problem of homelessness and examine resource allocation to guarantee adequate temporary housing;
  • tackle housing unfitness including connection of all (600) remaining homes to the public water supply;
  • urge the Department to learn from the experiences in the Republic and from initiatives as regards building affordable housing, before Belfast meets the problems encountered by Dublin and London;
  • secure an increased proportion of urban regeneration on "brownfield" sites
  • demand close co-operation between the Departments of Social Development and Regional Development to ensure that infrastructural preparation in terms of roads, water and power, is co-ordinated with housing development, commercial development, recreational facilities and the creation of green space;
  • return sites used as military bases to local councils, to be redeveloped for public benefit.

At local government level we will:

  • examine potential of Belfast Laganside re-development to inform other regeneration projects;
  • work to maximise advantage of EU funds and government initiatives in the drive to build our economy;
  • continue to provide quality advice on housing issues, to support people & develop communities


Social Security

The SDLP believes that people have the right to a decent standard of financial support if, for whatever reason, they are unable to provide for their needs independently. Claimants are entitled to an efficient service and to be treated with dignity and respect. We support the concept of a minimum income guarantee but do not accept that current benefit levels are adequate. The UK Treasury sets spending on social security benefits, at levels which are lower than the European average. The social security system is bureaucratic, complex and expensive to administer. Under UK governments of the last twenty years, poverty and inequality have increased more than in any other EU country. Clearly, benefits issues must be linked to policies and programmes aimed at assisting people to gain employment or develop the skills necessary to live as independently as possible.

In Westminster we will work towards:

  • an overhaul of the benefits system to produce a more streamlined and user-friendly system;
  • an increase in the level of income support and unemployment benefit;
  • a comprehensive disability income scheme;
  • an end to the restrictive points system used in assessing Incapacity Benefit;
  • the restoration of the link between the basic pension, inflation and average earnings;
  • the replacement of the social fund with a system of grants as a legal right linked to an appeals system with discretionary grants for emergencies;
  • ending injustice such as age discrimination in the benefits system.

In the Assembly we will work to:

  • ensure that there are adequate numbers of trained advisers and that every applicant is allocated a named adviser so that once in contact with the system all relevant benefits will be obtained;
  • establish a new benefits uptake campaign.

At local Government level we will:

  • advise constituents and assist them to secure the benefits to which they are entitled;
  • encourage uptake of benefits available.


Culture and Sport

The SDLP views culture, arts and leisure issues as central elements in our society, capable of enriching our lives, assisting personal development and promoting debate and social inclusion. For this reason and given the impact these industries have on the economy, government should be supportive and innovative, but not prescriptive.

While rejecting provocative flag-waving or tribalism, the SDLP has articulated a desire felt by many to share in the cultural life of the Irish nation; we wish to celebrate and preserve the rich diversity of our cultural heritage and believe the new all-Ireland language body can play a key part in that. Culture and identity issues have been central elements in the conflict; nevertheless we believe that they can also be a vehicle for reconciliation.

In Westminster we will lobby for:

  • a tax-exemption scheme for artists and sportspersons similar to that operating in the Republic;
  • the introduction of expanded range of tax incentives to encourage private sector contributions towards funding of Culture, Arts and Leisure projects
  • support for SDLP proposals that public buildings would display the symbols flags and emblems should displayed only by agreement so that of both or neither tradition or, as a third option, new agreed symbols.

In the Assembly we will work towards:

  • special recognition and an enhanced role for the Irish language in public life;
  • development of a cultural heritage programme in schools involving indigenous languages, literature and music;
  • support for the development of a Northern Ireland Theatre Company;
  • cash injection to support development of local film industry; upgrade of facilities and re-branding for Northern Ireland Film Commission;
  • recognition and treatment of sport as a central element in cultural development and a significant sector of the economy; the development of purpose-built motor racing tracks to reduce risk associated with the sport;
  • the development of all-island arts, culture and leisure policies;
  • enhanced regional autonomy for BBC Northern Ireland, to facilitate development of local writing and production, including Irish language and Ulster-Scots productions; all-island coverage of RTE television;
  • establishment of a Northern Ireland Cultural and Historical Archive.

At local government level we will:

  • work to promote respect for all cultures in Northern Ireland and support initiatives to create symbols and representations of what the communities have in common;
  • encourage the use of recreational facilities especially in areas of social and economic need
  • support the development of arts in the community with greater artistic autonomy


III. Equality, Human Rights and Reconciliation


The creation of a fairer, more equal society is core principle underlying all areas of SDLP work. We are committed to the creation of a pluralist democracy that respects and cherishes all traditions and cultures. The SDLP works hard to ensure that the equality agenda is taken forward in a positive way so that every community in the North can benefit and feel ownership of it. We believe that with rights come responsibilities - this is particularly important in balancing competing rights. Creating equality of opportunity does not mean treating everyone in the same way. Neither is it enough to tackle discrimination; to build a fairer society we must actively target social need, giving extra support to those who need it most.

The SDLP’s commitment to equality is already being reflected in government:

  • Single Equality Bill to extend protection from discrimination to new categories including age and sexual orientation and ‘harmonise upwards’ as far as practicable existing protection against racial, religious, sex or disability discrimination;
  • Children’s Commissioner and strategy for children as well as the creation of a "Children’s Fund" for young people at risk and children in need
  • extra funding for the Equality Commission to enforce disability rights;
  • funding to support ethnic minority voluntary groups;
  • funding for pilot traveller accommodation.

At Westminster we will work towards:

  • the extension of the obligation to carry out equality impact assessments to all UK bodies whose work affects equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland;
  • new legislation for Northern Ireland to introduce offences of racial violence and harassment;
  • a radical overhaul of sex offences legislation in Northern Ireland;
  • the repeal of laws banning Irish nationals from holding key civil service posts.

In the Assembly we will work to:

  • enforce and monitor the implementation of the "equality duty" by government departments so that all government policies are scrutinised for their impact on equality of opportunity;
  • ensure the implementation of the Disability Rights Taskforce report;
  • secure a strong remit and adequate resources for a Children’s Commissioner as part of an overall strategy for children;
  • ensure that the voice of children is heard in government and to promote the need for a strengthened Protection of Children Act for Northern Ireland with compulsory vetting of employees for all organisations working with children, and vetting information provided free of charge for all organisations;
  • enhance North-South co-operation on the protection of human rights and equality of opportunity;
  • introduce equal pay audits and measures to promote equality of opportunity for women as part of the Single Equality Bill.

At Local Government level we will work to:

  • promote equality and oppose discrimination on grounds of gender, race, disability, sexuality, age, religion or politics.

Targeting Social Need

The SDLP will continue to promote targeting social need throughout the administration as an important tool for creating equality of opportunity across Northern Ireland and breaking the cycle of deprivation. We will also work to promote social inclusion of all groups in our society. Indeed SDLP Ministers have already proven this commitment in their short period in office. Bríd Rodgers took the radical step of distributing milk quota only among small farmers. Seán Farren targeted additional finance at lower income families and Mark Durkan has driven the creation of the Executive Programme Funds designed to tackle poverty and disadvantage.

Major differences remain across many indicators from health to unemployment between different groupings in our society. Despite reductions in income differentials between men and women, there is still a 20% gap in average earnings. Although unemployment has fallen in both communities, Catholics remain significantly more likely to be unemployed – a problem that must be tackled. Minority ethnic communities, people with disabilities and older people all face considerable disadvantage in society. Inequality of opportunity is an unacceptable waste of talent as well as an injustice.

The SDLP will work for:

  • affirmative action and target-setting to promote equality of economic opportunity;
  • greater investment in our most deprived areas;
  • the development of action plans to tackle urban and rural unemployment;
  • the use of procurement to encourage recruitment from the long-term unemployed;
  • extra funding for schools in deprived areas;
  • additional funding for quality, affordable childcare for all;
  • proper accommodation to meet the needs of the Travelling community.

At Local Government level we will work to:

  • provide safe and supervised recreational facilities, particularly in areas of social and economic need;
  • ensure development of effective targeting social need action plans by all local authorities.

Human Rights

The SDLP was formed to construct a new political framework, a new Ireland built on a solid foundation of human rights principles, which would support new institutions and attract the allegiance of all sections of the community. With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, our work to promote human rights has advanced enormously, but is by no means completed. Progress has been made in implementing many of the human rights commitments in the Agreement, but others are still in the early stages of development. Central to the Good Friday Agreement was a commitment to produce a Bill of Rights, proposals for which are currently being considered by the Human Rights Commission.

The SDLP is working to ensure that the new Bill of Rights will:

  • protect all rights set out in the Agreement but not included in the European Convention of Human Rights, such as the right to parity of esteem and just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of the two main communities in Northern Ireland;
  • be broad-ranging and progressive and that, as well as civil and political rights, it will protect and promote social and economic rights e.g. the right to shelter and the right to education;
  • be based on best international practice, guaranteeing rights protection second to none;
  • be protected by a new human rights court, presided over by specially trained judges.

The SDLP has welcomed the establishment of the Human Rights Commissions North and South, although we remain concerned about the under-funding of the northern commission and the inadequacy of its powers of investigation. We will work to remedy these problems and to encourage and facilitate close co-operation to provide all-island rights protection.

Victims of the Conflict & Community Relations

The SDLP recognises the need to address the needs of the victims and survivors of the conflict. We come to this issue in a spirit of reconciliation and are working to address it in a constructive and progressive manner. We are conscious of the need not to increase tensions, not to encourage arguments about the "real victims" but to give practical support and to promote healing and mutual understanding, without forcing the issue of reconciliation prematurely.

The SDLP has already ensured a fundamental review of our community relations policy, to ensure that it is focused on areas of greatest need and works in partnership with local communities.

The SDLP is campaigning for:

  • adequate financial and practical support for those injured during the conflict and for bereaved families;
  • a public memorial incorporating an inter-active video archive of victims’ testimony;
  • a register of victims to be held by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, to which anyone could submit their name for inclusion;
  • the appointment of a victims’ advocate to monitor the provision of services for victims and make representations on their behalf.


IV. Justice & Policing


The SDLP looks forward to supporting a new police service with which all sections of the community can identify. To do that we are seeking reassurance that the "new beginning" defined by the Patten Report, will be realised. While we accept that the ideal police service will not be created overnight, nevertheless there are certain minimum standards relating to structure, membership and accountability that are required if the new beginning is to be secured.

We must be sure that any wrong-doing would be effectively addressed; we must be sure that the service will quickly have significant numbers of nationalists, women and other under-represented groups and we must be sure that the structures will balance the political decision-making role of elected representatives against the "operational responsibility" of the Chief Constable. If these concerns are not adequately addressed now, there will be little appetite for reform in five years when it becomes clear that the same problems remain.

The SDLP has consistently acknowledged the difficult role performed by police officers over the years and the terrible suffering endured by officers and their families. However, for many years we have pointed out that the RUC has never had significant numbers of nationalists within it, even prior to the outbreak of the recent conflict. We have highlighted many instances of wrong-doing that were not addressed. We must create the new beginning so that the police service becomes the impartial defender of the public, accountable to society, representative of those it serves, removed from political debate and respected by all.

The SDLP is working to secure:

  • full implementation of the Patten report – we proposed over 100 amendments to the legislation and will keep working to secure changes to policing legislation to reflect these requirements;
  • phasing out of the full-time reserve, the immediate closure of Gough Barracks, lateral entry of gardai into the new service; improvements in police training on human rights; withdrawal from use of plastic bullets; thorough reform of Special Branch;
  • public inquiries into a number of controversial murders which have come to represent the core of nationalist distrust in the security forces and justice system.


The SDLP has maintained since its inception that a new society could only be built on a foundation of justice and equality. While we acknowledge that difficult circumstances prevailed over many years, the SDLP believes nonetheless that essential principles of policy and practice were breached including legal safeguards on the admissibility of evidence, treatment of those in custody, the right to a fair trial and differential treatment of those alleged to have committed offences. Having campaigned for the reform of the justice system for many years, we worked to have such reform included in the Good Friday Agreement and made a detailed submission to the Review.

Our priorities for reform of the justice system are:

  • abolition of Diplock Courts;
  • reform of judicial appointments procedure so that the judiciary reflects the society it works to protect;
  • adherence to international obligations and standards;
  • creation of an independent prosecutor’s office;
  • abolition of emergency laws;
  • funding for alternative secure accommodation to ensure that no under 18’s go to prison;
  • the piloting of community restorative justice in an accountable, human-rights based structure, organised, accredited and monitored by the Probation Board, formally linked to the justice system and managed consistent with best practice models internationally.

The SDLP has always opposed violence and abhors the ongoing occurrence of punishment beatings. No group can assume the authority to assault individuals in this manner. We remain confident that the reform of policing and justice will contribute to a resolution of this problem.

Our party is working for the full implementation of the Agreement, including the outstanding issues such as decommissioning, demilitarisation and policing. There is no place in a democracy for illegal weapons and the mechanisms arising from the Agreement must be exhausted to ensure that such weapons are put verifiably beyond use.

We are continuing to press the British government to speed up the normalisation process and rebuild trust in our community. These issues have divided our society for too long and must be addressed if we are to create a healthy democracy at peace with itself and its neighbours.


V. EU and International Affairs

The European Union

The SDLP has long been a pro-active and supportive advocate of membership of the European Union and is the only party in Northern Ireland to adopt such an approach. Indeed we were the first party in Ireland to press for membership of the EEC as it was in the 1970s. The EU has made a great contribution to Ireland, especially to Northern Ireland. EU regional and social policies have delivered millions of pounds of funding for economic and educational initiatives. Above all, the EU has been invaluable in our search for peace. By encouraging people to work together in pursuit in common interests, while preserving their separate identities, the EU transformed post-war attitudes created genuine partnerships. And the EU has provided much needed practical support for our own peace process through the EU Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

The SDLP wants to see the EU develop in a way that is democratic, accountable, inclusive, open, and dynamic. We believe that Northern Ireland is making a significant contribution to the dynamics of the Union, and we wish to see regional concerns placed at the forefront of political and economic decision making. The SDLP is the only party working actively with all institutions in the EU – Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the Commission.

The SDLP’s priorities in Europe:

  • development of new relationships with the institutions of the EU through direct representation;
  • reform of the Common Agricultural Policy by moving towards sustainable agriculture and an integrated rural development policy;
  • introduction of the single European currency;
  • secure benefits for Northern Ireland from the major economic and technological challenges of the future by closer involvement with European research, educational and training initiatives;
  • assist in the expansion and development of the European Union as membership includes states from central and eastern Europe.


International Affairs

The SDLP is a member of the Socialist International and is committed to the development of international relations as a means to address poverty, injustice and conflict. Recent initiatives have included support co-operative work with democratic movements in the Basque country, Serbia and Zimbabwe and a campaign on bonded labour.

SDLP priorities:

  • the promotion of the Fair Trade initiative;
  • the end of bonded labour and slavery;
  • fair treatment of asylum seekers;
  • tighter controls on arms exports;
  • cancellation of third world debt;
  • protection of the environment.


If you would like a copy of the SDLP Manifesto 2001 in Braile or large print please contact SDLP Headquarters, 028 9024 7700 or e.mail sdlp@indigo.ie






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Contact Information

Telephone (+44) 028 9024 7700
FAX (+44) 028 9023 6699
Postal address 121 Ormeau Road, Belfast BT7 1SH
Electronic mail sdlp@indigo.ie
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Last modified: 22 MAy 2001