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1998 Assembly Election - SDLP Manifesto

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Page Compiled:Fionnuala McKenna

Now, Say Yes To
A Future Together

SDLP Manifesto

Assembly Election 25th June 1998


scanned image of front cover Introduction

The SDLP in a New Administration

Constitutional Issues

The Assembly and the Executive

North/South Structures

British/Irish Council

Social and Economic Development

Agriculture and Rural Development



Health and Social Care

Social Security

Protecting the Environment


Equality and Partnership

Senior Citizens
People with Disabilities
Children and Young People
Fair Employment

Building the New Europe




The Good Friday Agreement, ratified overwhelmingly by the people of Ireland, north and south on May 22nd, is the key to our future.

The Agreement is rooted in the fundamental principles of the SDLP. It addresses the basic problems of our divided society and provides a framework for solving them. It establishes new relationships: relationships in the North of Ireland between nationalists and unionists; relationships between the north and south of Ireland; and relationships between the people of Ireland and Britain. The Agreement protects the right of the people of the north of Ireland to the identity, ethos and way of life of their choice.

The SDLP is proud of its role in bringing the Agreement about. Now we seek the support of the people to make its provisions work. The Agreement is not a victory for one part of our society over another. A strong SDLP presence in the new Assembly and the North/South Ministerial Council is essential to make the Agreement work, to ensure its provisions and to enter into a new era of partnership and fundamental change. The Agreement commits the representatives of both sections of our community to work together in our substantial common interest. We will do so, and in so doing, we will also harness the massive international goodwill, particularly in the economic sphere, for the benefit of all our people.

The SDLP in a New Administration

For the first time in twenty five years the SDLP enters an election which will see it in a partnership administration. In accordance with SDLP policy the Agreement ensures that all the people of Northern Ireland are empowered, through institutions based on a new partnership between our communities, to shape our own future economically and socially as well as politically. Both our major communities will be represented at all levels in the new administration of Northern Ireland in a way that reflects their democratic mandates. In the new administration the SDLP will play its part in working to implement the proposals of the Agreement in all the major issues - new political structures, human rights, reform of police and justice, prisoners, the demilitarisation of society, and of course, socio-economic development.

Constitutional Issues

Since its foundation the SDLP has been committed to the principle that it is for the people of Ireland alone, with the consent of both parts of the island respectively, freely and concurrently given, to determine their relationships with each other and with the people of Britain. Our party constitution, drawn up in 1970, enshrined that principle and set the SDLP's face firmly against coercion to bring about constitutional change. On May 22nd the people of all of Ireland exercised their right of self determination. They emphatically and overwhelmingly endorsed the principles of consent and democracy and expressed their utter rejection of the use of violence to pursue political objectives. This has been and remains the consistent policy of the SDLP.

The Assembly and the Executive

The SDLP will enter the Assembly and the administration of Northern Ireland to secure social and economic justice for all. Our party negotiators in the all-party talks ensured that the new body would be effective, would be genuinely committed to responsibility sharing and would be operated on the principle of 'parallel consent' so that key decisions, in both the Assembly and the Executive will be taken on a cross community basis. We will review the structure of administration of Northern Ireland so that the terms of the Agreement may be implemented fully. We seek the return of the maximum number of SDLP candidates at this election to make the Assembly, the Executive and the other new institutions created by the Agreement, work positively and effectively. This is particularly vital in the transitional, or 'shadow' phase of the Assembly's life when attempts will undoubtedly be made to wreck the establishment of new institutions, by those who refuse to heed or accept the democratic verdict of the people.

North/South Structures

As proposed by the SDLP there will be a North/South Ministerial Council in which Ministers from both parts of Ireland will meet to consult and take decisions by agreement on a wide range of matters of mutual concern and interest. Supported by a Secretariat, and by Implementation Bodies which will report directly to it, the Council will be a powerful agent for co-ordinating and developing policies to meet needs in both parts of the island. The model for the Council's operation is that of the European Council of Ministers and it is one that has been long advocated by the SDLP. In the negotiations the SDLP ensured that North/South institutions and the Assembly will be established at the same time and that neither can exist without the other. The SDLP will work constructively in the Ministerial Council to achieve the maximum harmonisation of social and economic provision throughout Ireland.

British/Irish Council

A consultative British/Irish Council is to be established under a new British/Irish agreement to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the people of these islands. SDLP representatives will play a full part in the workings of the Council.

Social and Economic Development

Social and economic development will be central to SDLP activity in the new institutions and we will continue to develop our strong links with both the United States and Europe in order to assist us in our major socio-economic task. The economic and social costs of the violence, instability and division in our society have been enormous. Economic investment and development have been retarded and the creation of severely marginalised and disadvantaged sections of all the community has resulted. The SDLP has always insisted that the creation of a viable and productive economy in Northern Ireland must be a primary aim of politics and would lessen if not remove the fertile seeds of mistrust and conflict. The SDLP has always highlighted the need for cross border economic co-operation and partnership and believes that the new cross border institutions brought into being by the Agreement offers an unparalleled opportunity to begin to tackle the serious inequities in the economy particularly in border regions.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • a long term economic development strategy for effective planning

  • fiscal powers for the Assembly

  • the encouragement of enterprise in all sections of the economy

  • the establishment of a constructive and structured relationship between the public and private sectors

  • the development of a system of education to offer life long learning, quality training for the workforce and a dynamic link between education, training and the economy

  • a strategic approach to developing north/south links, paying particular regard to cross border initiatives in tourism, agriculture and industry

  • a strategic approach to exploiting the full potential of our membership of the European Union

  • the amalgamation of the IDB and LEDU to maximise and better focus the drive for industrial development

  • the inclusion of the social partners - the unemployed, the trade unions and employers - in economic planning and decision making

Agriculture and Rural Development

The SDLP is seriously concerned about the decline in farm incomes brought about by the BSE crisis and the strong value of sterling. The SDLP wishes to see farm incomes increase but believes that it is important that the industry is mindful of the challenges of the modern competitive global market and the need for diversification of the rural economy generally in the face of the next round of CAP reform and EU enlargement under Agenda 2000.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • the protection of agricultural incomes and rural communities under further reforms of the CAP

  • a vigorous international marketing campaign to counter the serious effects of the BSE ban on the existing markets

  • diversification of the rural economy and adequate assistance in promoting diversification initiatives

  • the availability of proper advisory services for rural areas and for agriculture

  • adequate resources for the rural development council

  • adequate resources to tackle poor housing condition.

  • the completion of electrification and mains water schemes in rural areas

  • assistance for the horticultural industry to help it meet the challenges posed by the arrival of the major supermarket chains

  • a development policy for rural industry to ensure environmentally-friendly industries in rural areas

  • the protection of the landscape and heritage of rural areas

  • strong links between rural development and tourism


The SDLP believes that tourism offers very significant opportunities for economic development and job creation. The full working of the Agreement and a peaceful environment will maximise the potential of a comprehensive tourism strategy.

  • In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • an integrated approach from the different parts of the tourism sector to market a coherent and attractive product and quality facilities

  • harmonisation of the promotion strategies of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Failte to maximise the benefits of an all Ireland tourist strategy

  • the identification, preservation and protection of tourist assets to ensure that their full potential is realised through strategic planning


The SDLP regards education as a necessary foundation for an active responsible citizenship. The education system should be based on principles of equality of opportunity, respect for children and learners and parents' rights. The objective of policy must be the establishment and maintenance of a flexible system which achieves quality education and training for children and adults as well as providing for parental rights and parental choice.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • comprehensive nursery education

  • the end of selection at 11

  • the preservation of rural schools

  • the abolition of misleading and uninformative "league tables" from schools

  • the abolition of student loans and the introduction of a proper grants system

  • life long learning strategies to target parents, the unemployed and the poorly qualified

  • the development of community education initiatives

  • a higher priority for Education for Mutual Understanding initiatives

Health and Social Care

The SDLP recognise that there are a number of major issues and problems in health and social care. Health is not exclusively related to individual factors, but has a strong social and economic dimension. There are major inequalities in health and care between social classes and a link between the prevention of ill health, income, education and housing. Real health and social gain can only be achieved by reducing poverty and inequality.

There is significant underfunding of health and care, particularly in comparison to other European countries, and the cumulative impact of underfunding, year on year, has had a deleterious impact on the health and social services available to our people.

The Health and Personal Social Services have become burdened with expensive overheads associated with a complex and inappropriate bureaucracy.

In addition the internal market and the contracting process is proving to be complex and expensive. Contracting on an annual basis is irrelevant to and fails to address the longer term strategic planning requirements.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • an effective strategy to recognise the underlying links between health, poverty and income, between health and education and health and housing and the general environment

  • an effective strategy to prevent ill-health through education, housing, economic and environmental policies

  • an adequately funded NHS and reduced waiting lists

  • equal and effective access to health and social care services for all areas throughout Northern Ireland

  • the management of health services in such a way that the maximum level of resources is available to health and care professionals instead of being lost in unnecessary layers of administration

  • a radical overhaul of the internal market with 3-5 year commissioning plans being developed

  • a clear strategy for investment in the physical and clinical infrastructure needed to support primary care

  • the right of informal carers to have a separate assessment of their needs carried out, and appropriate services developed to support them.

  • the reduction of the number of HPSS organisations including the number of trusts and their organisational boundaries changed to ensure that they are integrated providers of health and social care, providing integrated, acute and community services in a Health and Personal Social Services Common Services Agency.

  • the development of a 3-5 year strategic plan to incorporate administrative reform, an investment strategy and a clear commissioning framework, tied to research based indicators of health and social gain.

Social Security

Within the context of social and employment policies the broad objectives of the social security system must be to prevent poverty and allow a choice for work.

The social security system must provide the means for the poor, the elderly and the unemployed to meet basic needs.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • a system of benefits and pensions designed to meet basic needs and ensure access to other types of social provision such as housing, health, social care, training and education.

  • efffective policy co-ordination between social security, health, the economy, education and housing.

  • a minimum wage.

  • a relationship between the tax system, the social security system and the pricing policy for basic services, such as housing, that does not create poverty traps.

  • monitoring of the New Deal project to ensure effectiveness, fairness and delivery of proper jobs.

  • an increase in the basic Retirement Pension, with the restoration of the link between inflation and average earnings.

  • the restoration of the value of Child Benefit in real terms to what it was in 1987 when it was frozen.

  • the restoration of the right to Income Support for 16 to 17 year olds.

  • the replacement of the Social Fund by a system of grants as a legal right linked to an appeals system and discretionary grants for emergencies.

  • a Comprehensive Disability Income Scheme.

  • an end to the capping of Housing Benefit.

  • access to adequate support with mortgage interest re-payments immediately mortgage holders become unemployed.

  • an end to the restrictive points system used in assessing Incapacity Benefit.

  • the continuation of the Independent Tribunal service and the right of the individual to appeal to the service.

  • opposition to the privatisation of the Social Security Agency.

Protecting the Environment

Effective policy interventions in the environment will have both a national and an international dimension. Pollution of the air and contamination of the seas do not stop at national borders.

It is the SDLP's view that national and international policy must work in harmony and on the basis of the following principles.

The principle of social justice must be applied in the implementation of environmental polices at all levels, nationally and internationally.

Secondly the principle of harmony. Policies on social and economic development need to harmonise with the self-sustaining and regenerating processes of the bio-sphere.

Thirdly the principle of sustainability to ensure that development does not degrade our environment.

Fourthly the principle of bio-diversity to sustain the natural eco-systems and habitats, the wilderness, and ultimately the life support systems of the planet.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • the maintenance of clean air and water.

  • the protection of existing wilderness, native habitats, countryside, landscape and wildlife.

  • the development and improvement in bio-diversity by creating natural (native) habitats for wildlife, recreation and leisure.

  • the efficient and effective use of natural resources such as water and land and the elimination of wasteful processes.

  • action to maintain macro life support systems- climate and air.

  • maintenance and protection of existing wilderness.

  • effective management of waste.

  • protection of landscape.

  • efficient use of all resources by re-cycling.

  • an end to the use of nuclear power in the production of energy and the closure of Sellafield nuclear plant.


Housing must be part of any serious plan designed to tackle poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion. An effective housing strategy will address three broad areas, housing, policy, funding and housing administration.

The SDLP believes that the system of housing administration, centred on the Housing Executive, has been fair and effective in the delivery of a housing service.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • the Housing Executive to remain as the single comprehensive housing authority for Northern Ireland, assessing need and building, managing and allocating houses on the basis of need and priority

  • effective regulatory control of housing associations by the Housing Executive to cover rent levels, standards and quality of dwellings and the allocation of houses

  • the allocation of all public sector housing, including that of the housing associations as well as those of the Housing Executive through a single waiting list and single selection scheme controlled and managed by the Housing Executive

  • policies to ensure high quality and standards in the building, maintenance and improvements of all dwellings

  • restoration of the Housing Executive budget

  • an adequate new build budget for the Housing Executive

  • adequate help with mortgage re-payments for owner-occupiers who become unemployed

  • increased security of tenure in the private rented furnished sector

  • policies and programmes to improve rural housing conditions

  • an end to mixed funding for housing associations because of its potential negative impact on rent levels and the quality and space standards in housing

  • a low rent policy in public sector housing

  • an end to plans to dismantle the existing legislation on homelessness

  • an end to the transfer of Housing Executive new build schemes to housing associations

  • an end to compulsory competitive tendering of Housing Executive housing management

  • an end to capping of housing benefits for private sector tenants

Equality and Partnership

The SDLP recognises that equality issues between the communities are matters of fundamental importance, but we also recognise that within and cutting across the two main communities are other groupings - those defined by deprivation and unemployment and by gender, race, age or disability.

Clearly inequality and marginalisation can be defined in political, economic or social terms. The SDLP recognises that inequality is a complex and changing phenomenon. It is the SDLP view that an effective strategy to address these issues will be multi-dimensional, involving structural elements, legislation, changes in process, target-setting, monitoring, public education programmes and new tolerant attitudes.

  • at the level of policy the strategy will be based on ensuring access to services based on need, access to jobs based on merit established through an open recruitment procedure and objective assessment at an interview, and access to public space based on a right of mobility for the disabled. At the same time policy will seek to encourage sharing and partnerships across the communities

  • at a structural level of governance and administration it will involve partnership, powersharing and general sharing between both major political traditions in the public sector and effective choice for individuals operating in the private sector who wish to share and integrate

  • at the legislative level it will require effective legislation to outlaw discrimination against vulnerable groups and ensure equal treatment including an overarching Bill of Rights

  • at the level of process it will require radical changes in how policies are developed and implemented and will involve mainstreaming to achieve the objectives identified such as PAFT and TSN

  • within the above context an effective strategy will include target - setting and monitoring to ensure that the agreed objectives are met

The SDLP wants to see effective and fully resourced Equality Commissions to deal with complaints based on gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, martial status and dependants.


The SDLP is deeply concerned by the fact that after twenty years of sex discrimination and equal pay legislation there is still a need for a strong lobby on women's issues.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • independent legal status for women married to working men and the end to inequalities experienced by women in the social security system

  • a major overhaul of the law on sex discrimination and equal pay, to produce a single comprehensive piece of legislation

  • the adoption of the Social Chapter, the implementation of a minimum wage and guaranteed rights for all workers, regardless of contractual status

  • better rights and conditions for all parents in the workforce

  • universally available childcare

  • Increased confidence-building and training opportunities to be directed at women wishing to enter or re-enter the job-market

  • a co-ordinated childcare-training strategy to enable parents to train while childcare is available

  • new Sex Offences legislation

Senior Citizens

The SDLP believes that the good health, independence and well-being of senior citizens must be a top priority and are concerned that today's pensioners are being forced to live on such meagre pensions.

The SDLP wants to see an end to the discrimination against older people in the workplace. As well as being grossly unjust, such discrimination is costly and inefficient.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • an increase in pensions, and a government commitment to assess the needs of senior citizens and provide satisfactory benefits

  • an end to VAT on heating fuel, and in the interim, exemption for pensioners

  • high quality health-care provided free to all pensioners

  • subsidised electricity and telephone rental and rates and a new offence to make it illegal to disconnect the telephone or electricity supply of pensioners without getting a court order

  • free security chains, door and window locks and alarms for senior citizens

  • training schemes for people of all ages, and new legal provisions to outlaw discrimination in the job-market solely on the grounds of age

  • an awareness raising scheme to deal with the one third of pensioners who are not claiming all the money they are owed

People with Disabilities

In the new Administration will work for:

  • a single, comprehensive and simplified benefits scheme and a guaranteed reasonable standard of living for all those either partly or totally prevented from working with as much independence as possible

  • adequate resources for the Commission on Disabilities with the power to take individual cases, and legal aid for claimants

  • improved access for children with disabilities in schools, to ensure that they are given the education they deserve to enable them to fulfil their potential

Children and Young People

The SDLP does not accept that there can be any compromise or two-tier system where the rights of children and young people are concerned. The SDLP is committed to the principle that, regardless of the wealth of the family, all children must be guaranteed a good minimum standard of living, and given the best possible education, health-care and opportunities to develop their potential.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • an end to child poverty and disadvantage

  • proper funding to ensure the effective implementation of the Children's Order

  • the DHSS and DENI to co-ordinate efforts in relation to youth needs including a strategy on lone-parents, benefit levels, benefit to work transition, and training and employment

  • urgent action to deal with the dramatic inequalities in child health in Northern Ireland

  • ex gratia payments for victims of child abuse who come forward after the three year deadline from their 18th birthday

Race Relations

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • proper funding to ensure the effective implementation of the new Race Relations legislation

  • a radical re-think on site-provision for Travellers to ensure that all families have the right to basic amenities guaranteed

  • the inclusion of an ethnic grouping question on the next census form for the North in order to make an accurate assessment of the needs of the various minority ethnic communities

  • the introduction into Northern Irish law of the offences dealing with racial violence and harassment

  • the provision of adequate resources to meet the needs of the minority ethnic communities, particularly in the fields of health, education and social services

  • the establishment of a European Union Centre to monitor racism

Fair Employment

Since its formation the SDLP has highlighted employment differentials as a fundamental cause of the social division in the North. Unfortunately much remains to be done and the Fair Employment Commission's Annual Report highlights the fact that Catholics are still hugely over-represented amongst the lowest paid, the unemployed, and particularly the long-term unemployed.

The Employment Equality Review, co-ordinated by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, highlighted the growing consensus around the need for attention to be focused more on equality-related measures than on the Fair Employment legislation itself.

In the new Administration the SDLP will work for:

  • legal aid for applicants making challenges under Fair Employment legislation and the tightening up of targets and time-tables for achieving equality in the job market

  • the implementation of the recommendations of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights review "Employment Equality: Building for the Future.

Building the New Europe

The SDLP is fully supportive of the new Europe that is gradually being constructed on the basis of co-operation and integration. We believe this should end, once and for all, the causes of the conflicts which engulfed Europe this century.

The SDLP is also fully aware that economically European integration - the single market and single currency, offers great opportunity for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The SDLP will work along with our allies in the Socialist Group in the European Parliament to pursue the following specific objectives:

  • the Union must be inclusive

  • it must remain competitive

  • it must be more democratic

  • offer involvement and participation for the citizens of Europe in the running of the Union

  • it must be able to deal with ethnic tensions which might arise as a consequence of labour mobility

  • the Union must have effective policies to protect the environment and public health

  • it must pursue policies of sustainable development

  • the European Union must work in the interests of the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland

It will be the intention of the SDLP that the Assembly and North/South Council will establish a direct relationship with the Union institutions.


  • the SDLP will continue to fully support and develop the European social dimension and the Social Chapter. We support the establishment of a legal basis for the promotion and protection of the rights of workers to adequate earnings, safe working environment and to democratically organise and represent themselves, as well as the enhancement of the position of working parents

  • the SDLP will continue to support a "Europe of the Regions" and to ensure that Northern Ireland plays its role in this development and benefits fully from it

  • the SDLP will play its full part in the process leading up to another round of Structural Funds and in the debate on the further reform of the CAP. We will work to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits fully from both the Structural Funds and CAP

  • the SDLP supports European Monetary Union as essential for the fair and effective operation of the single market and for European integration

  • the SDLP will approach the enlargement of the EU on a case by case basis, but always within the context of greater integration in the Union

  • to increase stability and strengthen peace, the SDLP will support measures and structures that lead to positive and constructive relations with its neighbours in Eastern Europe and Eurasia and will support the EU playing a positive role in resolving ethnic, national and political conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere


The SDLP stands for social democratic values. For the first time in a generation we fight an election knowing that, at its conclusion, we will be part of a partnership administration of Northern Ireland and between North and South.. It is essential that the strongest possible number of SDLP candidates is returned on June 25th to ensure that the Agreement is worked positively and effectively and that the policy ideals and practical objectives outlined in this manifesto begin to work in practice for the benefit of all our people.

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