SDLP leader Colum Eastwood says his party is “reinvigorated” after being returned with an increased mandate after the NI Assembly election.
The Foyle MLA, who retained his seat in Derry alongside party colleague Mark H Durkan, says the SDLP’s first preference vote total increased by 12,000 and the party recorded a “proportionate gain” of two seats.
He added: “I want to put on record my thanks to SDLP activists and SDLP supporters who have delivered an increased mandate for the party after the Assembly election. Our vote has increased, our share of Assembly seats has increased and our ambition has increased.
“This is a victory for those who chose devolution over direct rule, for those who want power sharing to work. It is now incumbent on all parties to ensure that power is retained in our Assembly, not handed back to Theresa May and James Brokenshire.”
Twelve strong SDLP MLAs in a reduced Assembly, he says, is a statement of intent.
“The party has now arrested the period of decline and is returning to growth. This is the first time since 1998 that we have recorded gains. The SDLP is on the move.
“I also want to acknowledge the bravery and the humility demonstrated by Mike Nesbitt during this election campaign. This will be a difficult time for Mike, Lynda and their family. I want to assure him of my very best wishes.
“All parties must now move to begin negotiations to restore government and reward the trust the public have placed in us. And, this time, it must be a negotiation not a standoff. The SDLP is prepared for that. We will go into negotiations to deliver the best result for the people we represent. That must happen as quickly as possible.”