SDLP fence sitting leads to equal marriage defeat in Fermanagh

Tonight there was a rather upsetting first in Fermanagh District Council. For the first time that a motion on Equal Marriage has come before a council on the Ireland of Ireland the motion was defeated 9 votes to 8.

Unlike in previous cases where the unionist Councillors walked out here they remained in their place. There are 6 DUP and 4 UUP Councillors, to 9 Sinn Féin 3 SDLP and one independent. But when it came to the vote the unionist block (less the UUP vice chair) was one more than the Sinn Féin vote (less the council chair) while the three SDLP Councillors John O’Kane, Brendan Gallagher and Frank Britton all abstained. There are no Alliance Councillors on Fermanagh District Council so this wasn’t an early bench mark for their new policy.

Earlier this summer of course two the Belfast South MLA’s Conall McDevitt and Alasdair McDonnell (the party leader) had an disagreement over the course the party should take on the issue. Speaking at Belfast Pride Talks Back McDevitt had said that the party was 100% behind the issue. Only for his leader to say it was not party policy and that members were free to vote on the issue as this issue.

It appears that in Fermanagh at least the SDLP group have no position on the issue. Unlike in Belfast where the majority voted in favour.

The SDLP website says:

“The SDLP is committed to promoting equality, social justice and reconciliation, and to protecting human rights. These principles are not just slogans; they are a part of our founding philosophy.”

Itwould be interesting to hear how some of their members view that founding philosophy in relation to this issue.

Of course the SDLP aren’t the sole people at fault the DUP group leader Paul Robinson (not related to the First Minister) said earlier:

“I wouldn’t be for it, it’s against my principles and I would vote against it if it came up in council. It’s scripturally wrong”

Whereas independent Councillor Bernice Swift said, that if the motion came up it must be treated with the ‘respect and dignity it deserves’. She was not present in the chamber this evening, but had gone on to say:

“It affects people in Fermanagh and we must respect that and I would not like to categorise people into a discriminative box.

“It’s hard to anticipate what the response would be, but it would be an interesting debate. Everyone knows somebody in this position and its up to the elected representatives to be fair and open in discussions.

“I think that more education, awareness and discussion is important as that undoubtedly   gives a better understanding.”

It is a shame that there clearly is a sectarian divide forming (although the SDLP and UUP seem somewhat mixed in their opinions) on what is not  a sectarian issue. Although with the SDLP now failing to act in much the same way that Alliance did during the Belfast vote some SDLP supporters are up in arms at this inactivity.

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