Social Democratic and Labour Party

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Social Democratic and
Labour Party
LeaderColum Eastwood
Deputy LeaderNichola Mallon
ChairpersonColin McGrath
Party ManagerCatherine Matthews
FounderGerry Fitt
John Hume
Paddy Devlin
Seamus Mallon
Austin Currie
Founded20 August 1970
Headquarters121 Ormeau Road
BT7 1SH[1]
Youth wingSDLP Youth
Women's wingSDLP Women
IdeologySocial democracy[2]
Irish nationalism[3]

United Ireland[2]
Christian democracy
Political positionCentre-left[5][6]
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationSocialist International
UK affiliationLabour Party
RoI affiliationSDLP–Fianna Fáil alliance
ColoursGreen, red, yellow
Anthem"The Red Flag"
House of Commons
(NI Seats)
2 / 18
House of Lords
0 / 786
NI Assembly
12 / 90
Local government in Northern Ireland[8]
58 / 462
Website Edit this at Wikidata

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) (Irish: Páirtí Sóisialta Daonlathach an Lucht Oibre)[9] is a social-democratic,[5][10][11] Irish nationalist[11][12][13] political party in Northern Ireland. The SDLP currently has 12 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly and two MPs in Westminster.

The SDLP party platform advocates Irish reunification, and the further devolution of powers while Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. During the Troubles, the SDLP was the most popular Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland, but since the Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, it has lost ground to the republican party Sinn Féin, which in 2001 became the more popular of the two parties for the first time. Established during the Troubles, a significant difference between the two parties was the SDLP's rejection of violence, in contrast to Sinn Féin's support for the Provisional IRA and physical force republicanism. Since February 2019, the SDLP have been in partnership with Fianna Fáil.[14]


Foundation and early history[edit]

The party was founded in August 1970, when six Stormont MPs and one Senator, former members of the Republican Labour Party (a party with ties to the Irish Labour Party), the National Democratic Party (NDP, a small nationalist party that dissolved itself after the foundation of the SDLP),[15] individual nationalists, former members of the Nationalist Party and members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, joined to form a new party.

The SDLP initially rejected the Nationalist Party's policy of abstentionism and sought to fight for civil rights within the Stormont system. However, the SDLP quickly came to the view that Stormont was unreformable, and withdrew from parliamentary involvement.

Following the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, the SDLP emerged as the second-largest party, and the largest party representing the nationalist community, in elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly established in 1973: the party won 19 out of 75 seats. The SDLP was one of the parties involved in the negotiations that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement, which in turn resulted in the establishment of a power-sharing executive in January 1974. Gerry Fitt, the SDLP party leader, took office as deputy chief executive, taking government alongside the Ulster Unionist Party (led by Brian Faulkner) and the Alliance Party. The Assembly and Executive were short-lived, however, collapsing after only four months due to sustained opposition from within the unionist community, and it was to be 25 years before the party sat in government again.

The Good Friday Agreement and return to government[edit]

The SDLP was a key player in the talks throughout the 1990s that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. John Hume won a Nobel Peace Prize that year with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in recognition of their efforts.

As a result of the Agreement, elections to a new Northern Ireland Assembly were held in June 1998; the SDLP emerged as the second-largest party overall, and the largest nationalist party, with 24 out of 108 seats. The party was then returned to government later in the year when a power-sharing Executive was established for Northern Ireland. The SDLP took office alongside the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Sinn Féin, and the SDLP's Seamus Mallon became Deputy First Minister alongside the UUP's First Minister, David Trimble.

Upon Mallon's retirement in 2001, Mark Durkan succeeded him as Deputy First Minister.

Possible merger[edit]

There had been a debate in the party on the prospects of amalgamation with Fianna Fáil.[16] Little came of this speculation and former party leader, Margaret Ritchie, rejected the idea. Speaking at the 2010 Irish Labour Party national conference in Galway she said that a merger would not happen while she was leader – "Merger with Fianna Fáil? Not on my watch."[17] After his election as Fianna Fáil Leader in January 2011, Micheál Martin repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a merger or electoral alliance with the SDLP. In January 2019, the SDLP membership were e-mailed on the issue with the text "continuing on as normal is not an option", a reference to the party's declining fortunes.[18]

In February 2019, at a special party conference, the members approved a partnership with Fianna Fáil,[14] the main opposition party in the Republic of Ireland. Both parties shared policies on key areas including addressing the current political situation in Northern Ireland, improving public services in both jurisdictions of Ireland, such as healthcare and education, and bringing about further unity and co-operation of the people on the island and arrangements for a future poll on Irish reunification.[19]

Claire Hanna, MLA for Belfast South and party spokesperson on Brexit, quit the assembly group as a result.[20]

Westminster Parliament[edit]

With the collapse of the Ulster Unionist Party in the 2005 UK general election and Sinn Féin's continual abstention from Westminster, the SDLP was the second largest parliamentary grouping from Northern Ireland at Westminster. The SDLP saw this as a major opportunity to become the voice of Irish Nationalism in Westminster and to provide effective opposition to the much enlarged Democratic Unionist Party group. The SDLP was consequently paying more attention to the Westminster Parliament and working to strengthen its ties with the Parliamentary Labour Party, whose whip they informally accepted. The SDLP was a vocal opponent at Westminster of the proposal to extend detention without trial to 42 days and previously opposed measures to extend detention to 90 days and 28 days. SDLP MP and former leader Mark Durkan tabled an Early Day Motion on cluster munitions which gained cross-party support and was quickly followed by a decision by the UK government to support a ban.

In the 2017 United Kingdom general election, they lost all their seats in Westminster. The SDLP and UUP with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland all have found it difficult to win certain seats to Westminster since the rise of the DUP and Sinn Féin. However, in the 2019 general election they regained two seats.

Proposed Dáil participation[edit]

The SDLP, along with Sinn Féin, have long sought speaking rights in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Republic's parliament. In 2005, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern leader of Fianna Fáil put forward a tentative proposal to allow MPs and MEPs from Northern Ireland to participate in debates on the region. However, it met with vociferous opposition from the Republic's main opposition parties Fine Gael and the Labour Party, and the plan was subsequently shelved.[21] Unionists had also strongly opposed the proposal.

Remembrance Day 2010[edit]

On Remembrance Day 2010 party leader Margaret Ritchie made history by becoming the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a poppy while attending a wreath-laying ceremony in Downpatrick. The poppy is worn on the lapel in the United Kingdom as a mark of respect and remembrance for fallen soldiers in the period around Remembrance Day and is controversial in Northern Ireland, as it is viewed by many as a political symbol representing support for the British Army.[22] Because of this, it has long been the preserve of the unionist/loyalist community.[23] Her actions drew praise from unionists.[24][25][26]

Leadership challenges and elections, 2011–2015[edit]

On 27 July 2011, it was reported that Margaret Ritchie faced a leadership challenge from deputy leader Patsy McGlone.[27] The Phoenix reported that only one MLA Alex Attwood was prepared to back her and that "she will be humiliated if she puts her leadership to a vote"[28]

Alasdair McDonnell was confirmed as Ritchie's successor after the subsequent leadership election on 5 November 2011.[29]

Colum Eastwood challenged McDonnell and replaced him as leader in 2015.[30]


Colum Eastwood MP MLA, leader of the SDLP since 2015

Party leader[edit]

Leader Period Constituency
Gerry Fitt 1970–1979 MP for Belfast Dock (19621972)
MP for Belfast West (19661983)
John Hume 1979–2001 MEP for Northern Ireland (19792004)
MP for Foyle (19832005)
MLA for Foyle (1998–2000)
Mark Durkan 2001–2010 MLA for Foyle (1998–2010)
MP for Foyle (20052017)
Margaret Ritchie 2010–2011 MLA for South Down (2003–2012)
MP for South Down (from 20102017)
Alasdair McDonnell 2011–2015 MLA for Belfast South (1998–2015)
MP for Belfast South (20052017)
Colum Eastwood 2015–present MLA for Foyle (from 2011-2019))

MP for Foyle (from 2019)

Deputy leader[edit]

Leader Period Constituency
John Hume 1970–1979 MP for Foyle (19691972)
MEP for Northern Ireland (19792004)
MP for Foyle (19832005)
MLA for Foyle (1998–2000)
Seamus Mallon 1979–2001 MP for Newry and Armagh (19862005)
MLA for Newry and Armagh (19982003)
Bríd Rodgers 2001–2004 MLA for Upper Bann (19982003)
Alasdair McDonnell 2004–2010 MLA for Belfast South (1998–2015)
MP for Belfast South (from 2005)
Patsy McGlone 2010–2011 MLA for Mid-Ulster (from 2003)
Dolores Kelly 2011–2015 MLA for Upper Bann (20032016, from 2017)
Fearghal McKinney 2015–2016 MLA for Belfast South (2013–2016)
Nichola Mallon 2017–present MLA for Belfast North (from 2016)

Elected representatives[edit]


MP Constituency Notes
Colum Eastwood Foyle Party Leader
Claire Hanna South Belfast


MLA Constituency Notes
Sinead Bradley South Down Spokesperson for Health
Pat Catney Lagan Valley Spokesperson for Business and Innovation
John Dallat East Londonderry Spokesperson for Government Transparency
Mark H. Durkan Foyle Spokesperson for Social Justice
Dolores Kelly Upper Bann Chief Whip; Spokesperson for Policing
Nichola Mallon Belfast North Deputy Leader; Minister for Infrastructure
Daniel McCrossan West Tyrone Spokesperson for Education and Schools
Patsy McGlone Mid Ulster Assembly Deputy Speaker; Spokesperson for Justice
Colin McGrath South Down Party Chairperson; Spokesperson for the Executive Office
Sinead McLaughlin Foyle Spokesperson for the Economy, Higher Education and Skills
Justin McNulty Newry and Armagh Spokesperson for Public Health and Sport
Matthew O'Toole Belfast South Spokesperson for Brexit and Public Finance

Other Spokespeople[31][edit]

Councillor District DEA Notes
Pete Byrne Newry, Mourne and Down Slieve Gullion Spokesperson for Climate Action
Laura Devlin Newry, Mourne and Down The Mournes Spokesperson for Tourism
Adam Gannon Fermanagh and Omagh Erne West Spokesperson for Rural Healthcare
Kerri Hughes Mid Ulster Cookstown Spokesperson for Women and Equally
Cara Hunter Derry City and Strabane Derg Spokesperson for Mental Health
Paul McCusker Belfast Oldpark Spokesperson for Homelessness
Brian Tierney Derry City and Strabane Ballyarnett Spokesperson for Community Policing
Ryan Wilson Antrim and Newtownabbey Dunsilly Spokesperson for Workers' Rights

Electoral performance and governments[edit]

The SDLP was the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland from the time of its foundation until the beginning of the 21st century. In 1998, it became the biggest party overall in terms of votes received, the first time this had been achieved by a nationalist party. In the 2001 general election and in the 2003 Assembly election, Sinn Féin won more seats and votes than the SDLP for the first time.

The retirement of John Hume was followed by a period when the party started slipping electorally. In the 2004 European elections, Hume stood down and the SDLP failed to retain the seat he had held since 1979, losing to Sinn Féin.

Some see the SDLP as first and foremost a party now representing Catholic middle-class interests, with voters concentrated in rural areas and the professional classes, rather than a vehicle for Irish nationalism. The SDLP reject this argument, pointing to their strong support in Derry and their victory in South Belfast in the 2005 election. Furthermore, in the lead up to the 2005 Westminster election, they published a document outlining their plans for a politically united Ireland. Their decline in Northern Ireland outside of two particular strongholds had led some to dub the party the "South Down and Londonderry Party"[32]

Northern Ireland election seats 1997-2019.svg

The party claims that the 2005 Westminster elections — when they lost Newry and Armagh to Sinn Féin but Durkan comfortably held Hume's seat of Foyle whilst they also gained South Belfast with a slightly bigger share of the vote than in the 2003 assembly elections – shows that the decline caused by Sinn Féin's rejection of physical force republicanism has slowed and that their vote share demands they play a central role in any constitutional discussions. However the British Government remain focused on Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, as the mechanisms of government outlined in the Agreement mean that it is only necessary that a majority of assembly members from each community (which these two parties currently have) agree a way forward.

The SDLP endorsed and actively supported the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a force which many nationalists opposed, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In the 2009 European election the party fielded Alban Maginness as their candidate and failed to gain a seat with 78,489 first preference votes.[33]

The party further declined in the 2011 Assembly elections. It lost two seats although it polled ahead of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) which won more seats. The decline continued in the 2016 Assembly election, as a further two seats were lost and the total number of votes received dropped. In the 2017 Westminster elections, however, the SDLP lost all three seats, but they recaptured two of these (Belfast South and Foyle) in the 2019 Westminster elections.

Party Leader Candidates Seats Change from 2007
1st-pref votes 1st-pref % Change from 2007

Executive seats
SDLP Margaret Ritchie 28 14 −2 94,286 13.9 −1.0 1
Northern Ireland Council seats
Antrim and Newtownabbey
4 / 40
Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon
6 / 41
Belfast City
7 / 60
Causeway Coast and Glens
6 / 40
Derry and Strabane
11 / 40
Fermanagh and Omagh
8 / 40
Lisburn and Castlereagh
3 / 40
Mid and East Antrim
1 / 40
6 / 40
Newry, Mourne and Down
14 / 41
North Down and Ards
1 / 40

Devolved Legislature elections[edit]

Election Body First-preference vote Vote % Seats Government
1973 1973 Assembly 159,773 22.1%
19 / 78
1975 Constitutional Convention 156,049 23.7%
17 / 78
1982 1982 Assembly 118,891 18.8%
14 / 78
1996 Forum 160,786 21.4%
21 / 110
1998 1st Assembly 177,963 22.0%
24 / 108
2003 2nd Assembly 117,547 17.0%
18 / 108
2007 3rd Assembly 105,164 15.2%
16 / 108
DUP–Sinn Féin–SDLP–UUP–Alliance
2011 4th Assembly 94,286 14.2%
14 / 108
DUP–Sinn Féin–UUP–SDLP–Alliance
2016 5th Assembly 83,364 12.0%
12 / 108
DUP–Sinn Féin
2017 6th Assembly 95,958 11.9%
12 / 90

Westminster elections[edit]

Election House of Commons Votes Vote % Seats Government
Feb 1974 46th 160,137 22.4% (in NI)
0.5% (in UK)
1 / 12
Labour Party
Oct 1974 47th 154,193 22.0% (in NI)
0.6% (in UK)
1 / 12
Labour Party
1979 48th 126,325 18.2% (in NI)
0.4% (in UK)
1 / 12
Conservative Party
1983 49th 137,012 17.9% (in NI)
0.4% (in UK)
1 / 17
Conservative Party
1987 50th 154,067 21.1% (in NI)
0.5% (in UK)
3 / 17
Conservative Party
1992 51st 184,445 23.5% (in NI)
0.5% (in UK)
4 / 17
Conservative Party
1997 52nd 190,814 24.1% (in NI)
0.6% (in UK)
3 / 18
Labour Party
2001 53rd 169,865 21.0% (in NI)
0.6% (in UK)
3 / 18
Labour Party
2005 54th 125,626 17.5% (in NI)
0.5% (in UK)
3 / 18
Labour Party
2010 55th 110,970 16.5% (in NI)
0.4% (in UK)
3 / 18
Conservative Party–Liberal Democrats
2015 56th 99,809 13.9% (in NI)
0.3% (in UK)
3 / 18
Conservative Party
2017 57th 95,419 11.7% (in NI)
0.3% (in UK)
0 / 18
Conservative Party
2019 58th 118,737 14.9% (in NI)
0.4% (in UK)
2 / 18
Conservative Party

Local government elections[edit]

Election First-preference vote Vote % Seats
1973 92,600 13.4%
82 / 517
1977 114,775 20.6%
113 / 526
1981 116,487 17.5%
104 / 526
1985 113,967 17.8%
102 / 565
1989 129,557 21.0%
121 / 565
1993 136,760 22.0%
127 / 582
1997 130,387 21.0%
120 / 575
2001 153,424 19.0%
117 / 582
2005 121,991 17.4%
101 / 582
2011 99,325 15.0%
87 / 583
2014 85,237 13.6%
66 / 462
2019 81,419 12.0%
59 / 462

European elections[edit]

Election First-preference vote Vote % Seats
1979 140,622 25.5%
1 / 3
1984 151,399 22.1%
1 / 3
1989 136,335 25.0%
1 / 3
1994 161,992 28.9%
1 / 3
1999 190,731 28.1%
1 / 3
2004 87,559 15.9%
0 / 3
2009 78,489 16.1%
0 / 3
2014 81,594 13.0%
0 / 3
2019 78,589 13.7%
0 / 3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 September 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b Nordsieck, Wolfram (2017). "Northern Ireland/UK". Parties and Elections in Europe. Archived from the original on 7 November 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  3. ^ "The Good Friday Agreement – SDLP". Archived from the original on 26 January 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Stephen Driver (2011). Understanding British Party Politics. Polity. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-7456-4078-5. Archived from the original on 27 May 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  6. ^ Paul Dixon; Eamonn O'Kane (2014). Northern Ireland Since 1969. Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-317-86657-2. Archived from the original on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. ^ Former leader, Margaret Ritchie, took up a seat in the House of Lords in 2019. To do so, she resigned from the party, but expressly retains her affiliation with the SDLP. She is the second leader, after Gerry Fitt, to resign the party whip to take up a place in the second chamber.
  8. ^ "Local Council Political Compositions". Open Council Date UK. 7 January 2018. Archived from the original on 30 September 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 June 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko; Matti Mälkiä, eds. (2007). Encyclopedia of Digital Government. Idea Group Inc. p. 398. ISBN 978-1-59140-790-4. Archived from the original on 3 January 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b William Beattie Smith (2011). The British State and the Northern Ireland Crisis, 1969–73: From Violence to Power Sharing. US Institute of Peace Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-60127-067-2. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  12. ^ Cathal McCall (2003). "Shifting Thresholds, Contested Meanings". In James Anderson; Liam O'Dowd; Thomas M. Wilson (eds.). Culture and Cooperation in Europe's Borderlands. Rodopi. p. 93. ISBN 978-90-420-1085-7. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  13. ^ Katy Hayward; Catherine O'Donnell (2010). Political Discourse and Conflict Resolution: Debating Peace in Northern Ireland. Taylor & Francis. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-415-56628-5. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  14. ^ a b "SDLP members back Fianna Fáil partnership". BBC News. 9 February 2019. Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  15. ^ Jörg Neuheiser; Stefan Wolff (1 January 2004). Peace at Last?: The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland. Berghahn Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-57181-658-0. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  16. ^ McDonald, Henry (8 April 2007). "SDLP could unite with Fianna Fáil". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 18 May 2007. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  17. ^ "SDLP leader Ritchie rules out merger with Fianna Fáil". The Irish Times. 4 April 2010. Archived from the original on 1 February 2011. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
  18. ^ "SDLP-Fianna Fail 'merger': Email sent to SDLP membership says 'continuing on as normal is not an option'". Derry Now. 4 January 2019. Archived from the original on 5 January 2019. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Claire Hanna quits SDLP assembly group". BBC News. 11 February 2019. Archived from the original on 12 February 2019. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  21. ^ See Irish Echo article Archived 4 July 2006 at
  22. ^ "Thousands gather to remember war dead". The Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  23. ^ "CAIN: Symbols – Unionist and Loyalist". Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  24. ^ "SDLP Leader Ritchie to wear Poppy" Archived 4 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News
  25. ^ "Decision to wear poppy difficult for SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie" Archived 17 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, The Belfast Telegraph
  26. ^ "Ritchie's Poppy Move 'Is a major breakthrough'" The Newsletter
  27. ^ "Margaret Ritchie: SDLP leader 'to face challenge'". BBC News. 27 July 2011. Archived from the original on 23 November 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  28. ^ "Bird's Eye View Patsy McGlone's Leadership Strike", The Phoenix Magazine, 12 – 25 August 2011, pg 8
  29. ^ "Alasdair McDonnellelected new SDLP leader". BBC News. 5 November 2011. Archived from the original on 5 November 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  30. ^ "SDLP leadership: Colum Eastwood wins contest against Alasdair McDonnell". BBC News. 14 November 2015. Archived from the original on 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  31. ^ a b c "Eastwood appoints new SDLP Spokespeople | 2020 | News". SDLP. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  32. ^ "Newton Emerson". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  33. ^ "Sinn Féin tops poll in Euro count-BBC News". 8 June 2009. Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010.

External links[edit]