30 March 2006

Shock as SDLP chief stands down

Daily Ireland

“I am no longer prepared to preside over or have any part in the unremitting demise of the SDLP nor will I allow myself to be corrupted, polluted or caged.” – Eddie Espie, former SDLP vice-chair

by Anton McCabe

A senior member of the SDLP has resigned from his position, describing party leaders as “destroyers and dinosaurs” who are “corrupted by quick-fix solutions”.
Eddie Espie yesterday revealed he was standing down from his role as SDLP vice-chairman.
He has also resigned as chairman of the party’s most important internal committee, the elections and organisations committee, and as chairman of the SDLP Mid-Ulster constituency council. He is to remain a member of the party.
He told Daily Ireland that he believed there was space for an alternative nationalist party to Sinn Féin but the SDLP was no longer that alternative.
Mr Espie is one of the few senior members of the SDLP to come from a working-class Protestant background.
In a 1,600-word resignation letter to party chairwoman Patricia Lewsley, exclusively seen by Daily Ireland, Mr Espie said the SDLP was no longer the party he had joined.
“In my opinion, it has become polluted by obstinate representatives, corrupted by quick-fix self-interested solutions and ruined by pig-headed individuals displaying complete indiscipline,” he said.
“I am no longer prepared to preside over or have any part in the unremitting demise of the SDLP nor will I allow myself to be corrupted, polluted or caged.”
Mr Espie said people who had previously voted for the SDLP were now choosing to stay at home and would continue to do so.
“In the background of vagueness and instability, those who most intensely oppose reforms [in the party] have thrived. The destroyers and the political dinosaurs have taken advantage of political inactivity by generating artificial hope through unfilled promises,” he said.
“The SDLP will not be a serious contender in the predicted assembly elections next year or in any election subsequently because it refuses to study hard lessons from the past, in particular from the assembly elections of 2003. To date, it has failed miserably to do so.
“The current assembly group of 18 elected members is unlikely to be returned. When this happens, and given the ongoing proposals in the Review of Public Administration, the percentage share nationalist councillors currently enjoy will plummet appreciably.”
Mr Espie accused the party leadership of squandering the lifeline thrown to it by last May’s Westminster and local government elections and of instead providing little strategic direction.
“The situation where some senior staff at ‘headquarters’, in collaboration with cabals who run the party, disregard the opinions and needs of grass-roots members is indefensible.
“Common courtesy costs nothing but means a lot to these dedicated members across the North,” he said.
“So long as the leadership cabals refuse to acknowledge the problems that exist and refuse to address them, this demise will continue.
“The systematic exploitation of the party decision-making bodies, branches, constituencies and committees, all the way through to the executive committee by individuals should never have been sanctioned.
“Family connections and those with careers close to party representatives continue to deadlock crucial fundamental reforms, to the detriment of the party.”
Mr Espie said he believed the SDLP was leaving a political vacuum within nationalism.
“The fact remains that a large proportion of the nationalist people in the North will never and could never vote for Sinn Féin,” he said.
“But unless the overhaul begins with immediate effect, this opportunity will be lost.
“The unpalatable reality is being ignored and, while it is being ignored, the downfall will continue unabated.”
Mr Espie told Daily Ireland he had spoken to many SDLP members and supporters and believed he was expressing what many felt but could not yet bring themselves to say.
He said he was proud to call himself a socialist.
Mr Espie, who lives in the Coolnafranky estate in Cookstown, said the SDLP no longer spoke for people like him or his neighbours.
He came from a background in the old Official republican movement. After its effective demise in the early 1990s, he joined the SDLP in 1991.
He has been vice-chairman for the past year and an executive member for the past three.
An SDLP spokesperson said the party regretted Mr Espie’s resignation decision.
“The SDLP has embarked on a process of change, restructuring and renewal over the last 18 months. That process will continue,” the spokesperson said.

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