They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Having taken a hard look at the history of the SDLP, Maggie Ritchie is determined not to repeat it. John Hume may have put the interests of peace before party health but Maggie's going to do nothing of the sort. Declan O'Loan had hardly uttered his words yesterday about the desirability of a single nationalist party when instruction came from the top telling him not just to shut up but to eat his words. Dutifully Declan did so: what he'd said about a single nationalist party wasn't party policy and he accepted that. O'Loan should have known better in the first place. His party wasn't prepared to offer even the most basic of co-operation in Fermanagh/South Tyrone recently, so why would they want to merge with/be swallowed up by Sinn Féin?
That's OK, though, and kind of symmetrical as well, because Sinn Féin don't fancy a merger either. John O'Dowd was on the radio this morning and said so twice. He even managed to get a dig in at the disarray in which the SDLP is caught. What his party wants, O'Dowd made clear, is not merger but the most basic co-operation in places like Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Belfast South.
What neither party explained was WHY they didn't like the idea of a merger. Maggie Ritchie, a month or so back, made mumblings about nationalist co-operation amounting to 'sectarian politics' - 'And we're not prepared to go down that road'. John O'Dowd dismissed the 'sectarian politics' tag as well but also made it clear that his party wasn't for merging with anybody - it just wanted to talk about co-operation and planning for the future.
The one thing neither the SDLP nor Sinn Féin has done is give us a single convincing reason why they should not have a merger. But the answer is obvious, and not very pretty. Both parties have a system in place, with jobs and power at stake in the event of a merger. Just as none of the parties in the south is keen on Irish unity, because it would mean the upset their carefully-constructed political systems.
Ireland unfree will never be at peace? Sounds like some parties, confronted with even the prospect of Irish unity and freedom, go weak in the lower limbs. Party first, nationalist vote maximisation a distant second. Until they can explain why they're agin a single nationalist party in the north, we have to conclude our politicians' pursuit of Irish reunification is really just a pretend-race.