Colum Eastwood accuses British Government of hands-off approach during outbreaks of political violence on streets of Derry and Belfast

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Colum Eastwood has accused the British Government of taking a hands-off approach to the north during the recent outbreaks of political violence on the streets of Derry and Belfast.

The SDLP leader, addressing the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis in the British House of Commons this afternoon, called for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to address the underlying causes of violence in working class communities.

He said: 'I'm disappointed at the lack of any acceptance of culpability from his own government and how they have dealt with the Brexit issue from the start and how they haven't been honest with the unionist population of Northern Ireland.

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"Church leaders have asked us to come together to deal with this crisis in our peace process and despite what the Secretary of State has said policing may be devolved but peace is not devolved. We all have a responsibility to deal with this.

Colum Eastwood in the British House of Commons this afternoon.Colum Eastwood in the British House of Commons this afternoon.
Colum Eastwood in the British House of Commons this afternoon.

"Why will the Secretary of State and his government not convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference?"

Mr. Lewis said he has spoken to the Irish Government about the situation.

He also said he thought it 'very misleading' to 'simplify what we have seen over the last few weeks in tensions around Brexit as many of us know, and I'm sure he knows as this was outlined to him by the Chief Constable [Simon Byrne] with myself at the end of last week, there is a multi-faceted set of issues, not least of all in some cases some of the brilliant work the PSNI have done cracking down on crime.'

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The Secretary of State said he believed the Northern Ireland Executive can deliver for the people of the north.

"Having come together just a few weeks before COVID came upon us all last year, to see the Executive work through the last year in the way that they have, staying together and working together for the people of Northern Ireland has been a phenomenal achievement and a huge credit to all of those involved in doing that.

"I have faith in them to do the work that is devolved to them. I will continue to support them in that and to give that support to the PSNI to do the job that is there for them to do and they are now focused on doing to keep everybody in Northern Ireland safe."

Speaking after the debate Mr. Eastwood said: "The scenes of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland over the last week have been a disheartening reminder that, in spite of all the progress we’ve made, our peace is fragile and it has to be constantly tended to by everyone in a position of civic and political leadership. The last number of months has seen a marked failure to provide that leadership and to be honest with communities that feel disenfranchised and disaffected.

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“The violence that we’ve all seen is a symptom of the coercive control exercised by paramilitary criminal gangs over working class communities where hope has been eroded by inopportunity and neglect.

“I am calling for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to address the deep rooted issues that have been given expression through street violence. Policing may be devolved to our Assembly but peace isn’t. All parties to the agreement need to apply themselves to this work and to ensuring that we work together in the substantial common interests of all traditions that share our island.”