ALASDAIR McDonnell has said that he believes unionism only shares power with nationalists because it is forced to do so.
The SDLP leader also questioned the motives behind DUP leader Peter Robinson’s widely publicised pitch to Roman Catholic voters.
In April, Mr Robinson used a landmark speech in Dublin to admit that unionists had been too slow to accept that power-sharing was inevitable when the majority rule Stormont Parliament fell in 1972.
However, while Mr Robinson said that from that point on power-sharing was “inevitable”, he did not say that it was desirable.
Dr McDonnell, who has worked with unionists over decades as a Belfast councillor and has received votes from traditionally unionist areas of South Belfast to be elected MP, told the News Letter: “I see unionism as having moved; but I only see it as having moved under pressure.
“I don’t see the tolerance – and I’m deeply disturbed by the lack of tolerance and respect in our society.
“I see people are prepared – and that’s what I think we have in this building [Parliament Buildings] – people are prepared to talk to each other and to work with each other when they’re forced to but they don’t really want to.
“I will accept that tolerance when I see people treating each other as equals. I want to see that; I value highly the relationships I have with a number of people from a unionist background and with a number of people from right across society and some of those relationships I couldn’t survive without.
“I can’t understand why other people pigeon hole themselves into narrow sectarian groupings. I’m just bewildered as to why...I know it happens and I recognise it and I can predict when it will happen but I just cannot understand why we should have the intensity of hatred that we see at the likes of Ardoyne or other places where we have to force something down somebody’s throat and then react to that and react to that and react to that.”
He said that society in Northern Ireland still lacks the “cement” of tolerance for those with whom one disagrees.
“The SDLP suffered because it was prepared to compromise; it was prepared to put the public good first; it was prepared to recognise that there needed to be compromise in a lot of places and that was seen by some as a weakness.
“The same applied to the Ulster Unionist Party – when the UUP made the compromises that were absolutely common sense and essential, the DUP blamed them and then climbed over them.
“So which DUP is it?”
Dr McDonnell also dismissed the First Minister’s claim that he wants to make the DUP attractive to Catholic voters.
He said: “Peter Robinson’s tactic there is very simple. Peter Robinson is putting on a white garment as it were not to attract Catholic voters but to outflank the Ulster Unionist Party — all he’s trying to do is to make himself more attractive to Ulster Unionists by saying that he’s not a bigot or he’s not this or he’s not that.
“Time will tell and time will test each of these things. I would not do Peter down unnecessarily on a personal level...but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
In Wednesday’s News Letter Dr McDonnell was incorrectly quoted three times referring to ‘Londonderry’ when he had referred to ‘Derry’. This was a mistake introduced during the editing process.
A quote beside the report referred to ‘the SDLP’ when it should have said ‘Sinn Fein’, as the full quote made clear in the main report. We apologise for the errors.
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