Margaret Ritchie MP MLA, Leader SDLP, speaking at the McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School in Carlingford, Co Louth on the topic of the future of constitutional nationalism, said the key traits of progressive nationalism namely a successful economy and reconciled people can lead to the ultimate goal of a united Ireland – a goal unreachable by ‘resentful nationalists.’
She said: “Those who mark Sinn Fein moving onto the traditional SDLP ground of ‘constitutional nationalism’ should try to see the broader picture. With their disavowal of violence, Sinn Fein are merely rejoining the mainstream of Irish Nationalism. Meanwhile the SDLP will continue to occupy the principled social-democratic ground at the centre of nationalism on the island. Time will tell if the authoritarian Sinn Fein can ever join us there.
“I would tend to categorise the nationalism of the SDLP as progressive nationalism. The progress we have made in recent years with the Good Friday Agreement allows us to develop a progressive nationalism that could not have been developed before. Because the legitimacy of the political pursuit of Irish unity is now accepted on a par with the legitimacy of maintaining the Union, then that surely allows us to look forward and to be more progressive.
“There is no longer a justification for a nationalism that is categorised by resentment or bitterness. That is why I have said recently that we want to make Northern Ireland an economic success. Resentful nationalism says we don’t care about the economy; we are just biding our time until Northern Ireland is over.
“But the old nationalist ambivalence about the Northern Ireland economy cannot be justified. In the coming weeks the SDLP will set out in detail an economic vision for Northern Ireland which recognises that notwithstanding our political goal of Irish unity we must make this place as good as it can be for the people who live here now. The other nationalism remains ambivalent on the Northern Ireland economy. Indeed it cannot bring itself to utter the words Northern Ireland. It remains suspicious of investors and entrepreneurs, and resentful of profit.
“But perhaps the biggest difference between progressive nationalism and resentful nationalism is the view they take of society itself. SDLP progressive nationalism says we want a shared society. That means a society that is not only non-violent, but which welcomes, cherishes and embraces different traditions and actively sets out to end segregation and division. Our vision of a shared society is one where people with different religions and races can live side by side in the same areas, sharing the same communities totally at ease with each other.
“Other nationalists reject this vision, largely because they feel it may reduce their control in their single identity communities.
“Then there is the question of Irish unity itself. Progressive nationalists see a unity that is a coming together of the two traditions on the island and not a hostile take over. Our strategy is to provide assurances about the continuation of the institutions of Northern Ireland in any new United Ireland. And also an acknowledgement that the challenge for Irish nationalists is to make the case to unionists in a way that has never been done before. What happens to the National Health Service in our vision of a United Ireland? What happens to our Social Welfare System? What happens to our Police Service? These questions have to be answered. And we will try to answer them in a positive spirit.”