Colum Eastwood says the SDLP won’t shirk from making “unprecedented and uncomfortable” responses to the “deep political change occurring across these islands” in the interests, not only of his party, but of the country as a whole.
The SDLP leader made the pledge after Assembly and Westminster elections this year saw the party surpassed by Sinn Féin in its Foyle heartland and left it without an MP at Westminster for the first time in its history.
Mr. Eastwood paid tribute to outgoing MPs and former leaders, Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell, describing them as “immense figures”.
He said: “Their constituencies and Irish politics lost people who have given their entire adult lives in the pursuit of peace and progress.”
However, the Foyle MLA said it was now time to reflect.
“The last number of elections has revealed the depth of political change occurring across these islands - therefore it is only right and natural that as a party we are up for the challenge of changing too.
“We have heard the verdict of the voters, we accept that verdict, and we now intend to listen hard to understand what has been said to us and how we can best respond.
“We will not rush into any kneejerk reactions but nor will we be slow in doing what is required. As a party there are no questions we will not be prepared to face. We will not shy away from attempting to provide answers to those questions – even if those answers include the unprecedented or the uncomfortable.
“I want to make clear it will not be a conversation centred solely on the future of the SDLP – it will be a conversation centred on the future of the country. That is our only focus because it is the ultimate point of politics – a point too often lost.”
Mr. Eastwood said his party had no intention of abandoning the 100,000 people who voted for the SDLP.
He said: “Northern Nationalism deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no Assembly and has now placed us at the mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories. In the context of Brexit, huge constitutional and economic change is working its way across both the islands of Britain and Ireland yet Northern politics is retreating into the comfort of old battles. There is no future if the North continues to be locked into a political arm wrestle which no one can win. The change underway in the SDLP will seek to break beyond this perpetual stalemate which offers no solutions.”