SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood releases a New Year’s message in which he reflects on the year passed and the political challenges which await in 2017:
2016 was nothing if not memorable. The political events of the last year have meant that for the first time in a long time many people are facing into this new year with anxiety rather than hope.
The Brexit referendum result, the rise of an all too familiar right-wing and the continued stagnation in people’s living standards have all contributed to a deeply difficult year. However in this new year we should remind ourselves that if we are capable of imagining and recognising the dangerous political future which may lie ahead, we are equally capable of avoiding it. We are equally capable of changing it.
Just as those of us in the political centre must recognise that the damaging context and consequences of this last year have been the product of political decisions spread over generations - we all must recognise that is only bold political leadership and decision making which contains any hope of leading us through the period of crisis and uncertainty across our continent.
That will require a fundamental rebuilding of the values and connection that politics has with the lives of citizens. It will also require a narrowing of the distance and a healing of the alienation which has grown between our politics and our people.
As we collectively look ahead, Brexit remains the most significant threat hanging over this island. The inertia and uncertainty which has characterised the British Government’s and the Executive’s response to the referendum result has crippled confidence. For too long we have all been asked to tag along with meaningless mantras and the singular tactic of ‘wait and see’.
The achievement of special status for Northern Ireland does not require waiting for the conclusion of the overall British negotiation. Working with European partners and in particular with the Irish Government, a deal can be reached to bring certainty and security to this island even if it remains absent in Britain. The SDLP will continue to lead that campaign in the coming months as we draw closer to the triggering of Article 50.
It would be wrong to let 2016 pass without acknowledging the mature and meaningful way in which the centenaries of the Rising and the Somme were celebrated and commemorated. That is something we should all look back on with immense pride and it should act as encouragement as we face into the significant centenaries of the war of independence, the civil war and partition.
On that positive note, we must also work to ensure that 2017 is finally the year that the North joins the rest of these islands in securing marriage equality for all our people.
Clever choreography can’t save Foster.
As we enter into 2017 there is one pressing political issue which must not be allowed to drag on and distract our politics indefinitely.
We continue to have in place a First Minister who does not command the support of the Assembly and the public. As the financial burden of the ‘cash-for-ash’ scandal continues to grow, citizens and their families should no longer be burdened with Arlene Foster’s continued leadership.
In my exclusion motion on the 19th of December I advised the DUP leader that Christmas would not save her. Since then further revelations have added further clarity. No matter how hard they might try, the DUP cannot escape that emerging reality.
No amount of clever choreography can allow Arlene Foster to remain in office - her one and only option is to step aside and allow a full public inquiry to reach the full truth. Stepping aside is also the only way in which politics in the North can hope to move on and deal with the enormity of the challenges which lie before us.