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Social Democratic and Labour Party

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). The SDLP has been the most effective institution representing the catholic minority in Northern Ireland since the province's establishment. It was formed in 1971 as a coalition between the old Nationalist Party members, republican socialists, and civil rights campaigners, and represented the enlarging catholic middle class. It was initially led by Gerry Fitt, representative of Belfast's Labour tradition. The SDLP accepted the position as opposition party within Stormont, but boycotted it over the implementation of internment in 1971. It joined the power-sharing executive of 1973–4 and suffered from its rapid collapse. In 1979 John Hume was elected leader and developed effective contact with politicians in Dublin, Brussels, and the USA. Its electoral dominance among the catholic community has been challenged by Sinn Fein, particularly over the hunger strikes of 1981. Hume led a peace initiative in 1993–4 in talks with the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams; their agreement provided background to the Downing Street declaration of December 1993, and the republican cease-fire of August 1994–January 1996. At the general election of 2001, the SDLP retained its three seats for Newry and Armagh, Foyle, and Down South. In 2005, it lost Newry and Armagh to Sinn Fein, but gained Belfast South from the UUP.

Michael Hopkinson

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