Eastwood removed from Justice post

SDLP MLA Colm Eastwood carries the coffin of former Derry Republican Seamus 'Chang' Coyle in the City Cemetery on Tuesday morning, flanked by an IRSP colour party. 2004FP01
SDLP MLA Colm Eastwood carries the coffin of former Derry Republican Seamus 'Chang' Coyle in the City Cemetery on Tuesday morning, flanked by an IRSP colour party. 2004FP01

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood has been removed from the Assembly’s Justice Committee in a party reshuffle.

The move comes amid calls for him to step down from the committee after he participated in a paramilitary funeral last week during which a number of shots were fired by a masked RIRA gunman.

Mr Eastwood was pictured carrying the coffin of former INLA man Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle, flanked by a colour party of men dressed in paramilitary uniform.

The former Mayor of Derry defended his decision to take part in the funeral, insisting he was there to pay his respects to a close friend. He also said he would do the same thing again.

It has also emerged that Mr Eastwood’s party colleague and fellow Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, also attended the funeral.

Mr Eastwood’s involvement in the funeral sparked controversy with local unionists, victims’ campaigners, and an Alliance MLA calling for him to step down from the justice committee.

Michael Gallagher, whose son, Aiden, was among those killed in the Real IRA bomb attack in Omagh in 1998 said the Foyle MLA should have considered the consequences of his actions.

“People have a right to pay their respects at a funeral but we don’t want to be bringing extremists into play or possibly be construed as being supporting something they may be involved in,” he said.

DUP alderman Gary Middleton has also called for the Foyle MLA to be disciplined by the SDLP. “What I’m calling for is the SDLP leader to explain the actions of one of his members and to discipline him,” he said.

Alliance party justice spokesperson, Steward Dickson, called on the SDLP to strip Mr Eastwood of his Stormont Justice Committee post.

The SDLP have said the decision to move Mr Eastwood from the Justice Committee to the Standards and Privileges Committee was not connected with the controversy over his participation at last week’s funeral. Mr Eastwood will be replaced on the Justice Committee by Mid-Ulster SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone.

‘Taken last week’

The party said the decision was taken last week and announced before the story about Mr Eastwood was made public. A statement announcing the reshuffle was posted on the SDLP’s website on Thursday but details on individual MLAs were not included.

Announcing the reshuffle, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “This reshuffle will make even better use of the great talent and expertise which exist within our dynamic Assembly team. It will also make better use of our representatives’ time, ensuring less time is spent on the road and more time is spent on the ground administering to the needs of constituents.

“The SDLP has a broad collective leadership and I am very confident in my team’s ability to challenge government to improve our healthcare system, rebuild our economy, and get a fairer deal for people being hit by welfare cuts, better our education system for all children and drive positive changes for our environment.

“We will continue to lead on these crucial issues at Stormont, Westminster and in local councils to improve the quality of life for people across the North, protecting those who are vulnerable and marginalised in our society.”