Social Democrat and Labour party (SDLP)

Like the Alliance party, the Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) has seen better days.

Affiliated to the Labour party, the SDLP was formed in the early 1970s at the height of the 'Troubles'. It was also one of the driving forces for peace in Northern Ireland under leader John Hume and deputy leader Seamus Mallon in particular.

The party advocates a united Ireland but not one in which a new minority is simply created. It also proposes the abolition of the 11+ exams, greater protection for agricultural and rural communities and greater environmental standards.

The SDLP were the first to advocate the so-called principle of "consent" recognising that fundamental changes in Northern Ireland's constitutional status could only come with the agreement of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This was eventually a principle that Sinn Fein agreed to as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Unfortunately the Good Friday Agreement was largely the undoing of the SDLP. Having been the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland during most of the previous two decades, and in 1998 the largest of all the political parties in Northern Ireland, it began to see its vote shift to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein overtook the SDLP in the 2001 general election and Northern Ireland Assembly election in 2003 for the first time.

Much of the decline of the SDLP has been attributed to the retirement of John Hume. In the 2004 European elections, Hume stood down and the SDLP failed to retain the seat he had held since 1979, losing to Sinn Fein.

However, since the collapse of the Ulster Unionist party in the 2005 and Sinn Fein's continual abstention from Westminster, the SDLP is once more the second largest parliamentary party from Northern Ireland in Westminster, behind the Democratic Unionist party (DUP). They currently have three sitting Westminster MPs.

Margaret Ritchie took over the leadership of the party in 2010 and was the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. The SDLP won 14 of 108 seats in the 2011 elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.