‘Executive must deliver’

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood pictured outside his constituency office at Northside Shopping Centre. 1301JM06
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood pictured outside his constituency office at Northside Shopping Centre. 1301JM06

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood has said the Executive needs to show its commitment to Derry by doing more to support the One Plan for the regeneration of the city.

Mr Eastwood made the comment in a wide-ranging interview reflecting on his first nine months as an MLA at Stormont.

The former mayor of Derry said that stepping up to Stomont from Derry City Council brought many challenges but he has enjoyed the experience.

As well as getting to grips with his duties as an MLA, Mr Eastwood was also appointed as an Assembly Private Secretary to Environment minister, Alex Attwood.

The SDLP MLA said the role allows him to learn more about the business of government at Stormont and gives him the opportunity to raise the concerns of Derry at ministerial level.

Mr Eastwood said in 2012 people in Derry are looking for delivery from the Executive.

“What we have is political stability and it is great to see. People will now be demanding delivery. It is not good enough anymore for Martin and Peter to be laughing at each other’s jokes. People in this city need to see an end to the cycle of joblessness for young people; they want to see the university properly developed; and they want to see infrastructure that has been neglected for decades.

“The acid test of a government is not that they are there; it is that they deliver for people. I don’t think people see this Executive delivering for them. I hope that it is a case. From our perspective we will not be settling for the status quo,” he said.

Discussing his role with Alex Attwood, Mr Eastwood said; “It is exciting stuff. It is great for me as I’m just in the door to get that experience, both governmental as well as legislative experience. I sit in on many meetings with the minister and officials.

“The job is about learning how it all works. It is good for me because Alex is a very competent minister, He does not sit back and allow civil servants to run the department. From the SDLP’s perspective we are very keen to ensure that when we are in government that we fulfil the mandate the people have given us to try and make change.”

Mr Eastwood said combining his duties as an MLA and Assembly Private Secretary has led to an increase in his workload but said the two roles complement each other. “My first responsibility is to the people of Derry. Alex knows that very well and is supportive of that.

“In a way what it does is allow me to be involved in issues that are departmental but also related to my constituency. One example of that is the Marlborough issue - a lot of work was done behind the scenes to make that money available to the Council to protect that wall and I was very involved in that,” he said.

The MLA took time out of his busy schedule recently to learn how to drive and passed his test just before Christmas. He said being mobile has now made his job much easier.

“It is something I should have done a long time ago and it certainly makes things easier. It probably cuts about three hours off my travelling time every day. When I was on the bus I was getting the bus at 6.30am and going into Belfast city centre, then going out to Stormont, and the same in the evening, but it is far better now. I can get back to Derry quicker,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Mr Eastwood said he is looking forward to the constitutional convention in the Republic, which is expected to be held this year.

“That for me is an amazing and very important opportunity for Ireland as a whole to have a big conversation about where we are going as a nation. Bunreacht na h’Éireann makes very clear distinction between the state and the nation. Any constitutional change will effect the whole nation not just the 26 county state. It is an opportunity for Ireland to re-engage with itself and for citizens in the North to re-engage with our counterparts in the South,” he said.

The Assemblyman called for a process of talks with dissident republicans in a bid to end their violence. “What we need to do as a city is be open and honest and prepared for a debate. I have asked many times for a debate. I am quite prepared to go into a room and debate anybody about the way forward. Part of the problem is that people have avoided the debate. They would rather plant bombs.

“I am hopeful that people will realise that the democratic way is the way forward but I hope they don’t realise too late,” he said.

Mr Eastwood also called said he is looking forward to representing the city during the City of Culture celebrations.

City of Culture is a major opportunity. I hope that everything is being done to ensure we can deliver it fully. The opportunities are there in black and white for the people of this city but there is a massive onus on the people who are running it to ensure that it is done correctly.