Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood has confirmed he will run for leader of the SDLP.
The 32-year-old confirmed his candidacy on Monday after it emerged over the weekend a number of SDLP branches had nominated him to challenge Alasdair McDonnell for the leadership.
It’s not about Alasdair McDonnell. It’s not about me. It’s about the future of the country and the SDLP’s place in that, and that’s how I’ll take this forward.Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood
The ‘Journal’ understands that branches from across the north that nominated Mr Eastwood included Andersonstown, Claudy/Slaughtmanus, Derg-Glenelly, Lurgan, Shantallow, Magherafelt, Carntogher, Coalisland-Torrent, Coleraine & District.
Mr Eastwood said he made the decision to run for leader having “listened very carefully to what our members and supporters are saying” and said “it is a time for a new direction” and he is “hungry for change and ready to lead”.
When asked by the ‘Journal’ if he thinks he will be successful, Mr Eastwood replied: “I do think I can do it. I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead for me, or for the party, but I think it’s one that needs to be taken up. I have already received support from across the north and from all sections of the party. The party needs to move forward, but it’s going to take a lot more than just me for that to happen. It’s going to take a new generation of leaders to step forward.”
Mr Eastwood said he did not seek nominations.
“There is a broad spectrum of support out there and I intend to meet the party membership over the next number of weeks to spell out exactly what I will do as party leader, if elected, and to convince them their faith in me is warranted,” he said.
Mr Eastwood said the leadership challenge “isn’t about personalities” and he would run a “positive” campaign. .
“It’s not about Alasdair McDonnell. It’s not about me. It’s about the future of the country and the SDLP’s place in that, and that’s how I’ll take this forward. That’s how I take everything forward. It’s about trying to develop ideas that can bring Northern Ireland and Ireland as whole into a new era, and I think I am well placed to do that.”
Mr Eastwood said he hasn’t spoken to Mr McDonnell about contesting the leadership.
“We haven’t spoken in the last number of days, but Alasdair is a party colleague who I respect very much. Alasdair has given his lfe to the SDLP, but it’s important we move forward and onto a new generation,” he said.
“I am seeking the leadership because I believe in the values and vision of the SDLP. Only when we change ourselves will the SDLP be able to change politics in the North or help shape the new nation. We have to be honest about where the party stands and clear about where we want to go. That is the conversation we need to have with each other in the weeks to come. I am hungry for change and ready to lead.”
Among those who have publicly declared their backing to Mr Eastwood are East Derry MLA John Dallat and the deputy leader Dolores Kelly.
Foyle MLAs Pat Ramsey and Mark H Durkan declined to be drawn on who they would back as leader.
Mark H Durkan said he had never previously commented on leadership challenges and said it was an internal party matter, and for the party to decide. Pat Ramsey said he was remaining uninvolved in the leadership contest. Both MLAs said whatever the outcome, the SDLP leader would have the support of the party.
Mr Eastwood added: “You have to remember I haven’t asked for nominations. If I was orchestrating this there would be more nominations so, I’m confident I’ll get a large amount of support from Derry and other parts of the north. It’s up to me now to convince people that I can do the job and I have the ideas, more importantly, to put the SDLP back on track.”