Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood has said feedback from SDLP members across the North about his leadership challenge demonstrates an appetite for change, writes Sheena Jackson.
However, the 32-year-old cautions he is “taking nothing for granted”. Speaking ahead of his campaign launch on Thursday in Belfast, Mr Eastwood said he has had lots of contact with party members and supporters since announcing his challenge to Alasdair McDonnell.
“I’ve been getting very good feedback, and what members are telling me is that we need to change and renew. We have achieved a lot of change in the Good Friday Agreement, but we need a new vision for the next 20 years for Ireland and I have that vision.
“We’re going into difficult elections in the new year and we need to be fit and able to communicate that vision and message to the electorate. Politics has been stuck and stagnant for too long and it’s time for a new breed of politicians and a new generation to step forward.”
Colum Eastwood said he remains determined to keep his campaign positive.
“We need to be concerned about what the public think and, for me, this campaign is not about personalities - it’s about politics and making the SDLP come out strong again and making members believe we can win again. It’s a long term project to put the SDLP back where they should be,” said Mr Eastwood.
The campaign launch choice of venue - The Loaf Cafe instead of a conventional hotel venue - is reflective of the change Mr Eastwood said he talks about. Nonetheless, the former Derry mayor said the Grosvenor Road cafe will play host to what he said is “a serious event” with current and past members of the SDLP supporting him as he outlines his vision for the party he has said feels he is “ready to lead”.
“I am determined this has to and can be done,” he added.
Meantime, SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly, South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna and East Derry MLA John Dallat have openly declared their support for Mr. Eastwood.
“I believe he can, and will articulate a way forward, create a vision that will give hope and inspiration, rediscover the potential of the Good Friday Agreement and do justice to its architects, John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers, Eddie McGrady and all the other wonderful people that gave us the gift of peace,” said Mr Dallat.