SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood launches leadership campaign

SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

SDLP leadership contender Colum Eastwood has told supporters gathered at his campaign launch there should be an Opposition at Stormont.

The Foyle MLA is challenging Alasdair McDonnell for the SDLP leadership, and believes he is the man to get the SDLP back on track.

Having said he is “ready to lead”, the 32-year-old is confident the time is right for a change in leadership.

Speaking in front of former and current SDLP members and supporters, Mr Eastwood said all political structures must be “underpinned with a commitment to the spirit of power-sharing, but we need to reform those which are no longer fit for purpose”.

“There should be an Opposition at Stormont and one that is properly resourced and supported. The widespread abuse of petitions of concern should be stopped. We need a ‘North/South max’ approach to our cross-border institutions instead of the North/South light approach which is undertaken at the moment,” he said. “The SDLP will always seek a mandate to join the NI Executive, but any decision to do so will be based on what is best for the people of Northern Ireland.”

The former Derry mayor said the SDLP “is the only party with the credibility to act as persuaders for an inclusive and progressive united Ireland”.

“These twin pillars of ‘Progressive Nationalism’ will form the basis of my work as leader of the SDLP, and the basis on which we can reach out to new voters from all backgrounds,” he said.

“Our challenge is to work together to deliver this and it is one that I relish. The time when Stormont allows failed dogmas to trump people’s demands for jobs, public services and fairness must end,” he added.

South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna also spoke at the launch.

Others supporting the 32-year-old as SDLP leader include former SDLP minister Sean Farren, former minister and deputy leader Bríd Rogers and current MLA John Dallat.

The leadership contest will be held in Armagh on November 13 at the SDLP’s annual conference. Mr Eastwood said he will hold more events in the coming weeks.

The campaign launch was held at ‘The Hive’, a social economy project on Belfast’s Grosvenor Road.