East Derry SDLP Assembly Member John Dallat has become the first of the 14 sitting MLAs to openly declare for Colum Eastwood who is challenging Alastair McDonnell for leadership of the party which takes place at the Annual Conference.
The veteran MLA, who has spent more than 30 years with the SDLP, told the ‘Journal’ exclusively back in September he was “enthusiastically backing” Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood for leadership of the party.
The east Derry assemblyman also confirmed at the time a number of SDLP branches across the north had nominated the 32-year-old for the leadership challenge.
In a letter to the media Mr Dallat said: “Just over 40 years ago I had the privilege of meeting a fairly shy, relatively unknown young man with a full head of black hair at a meeting in Kilrea. He was articulating a vision of the future, away from the sterile and counterproductive intermittent violence of the IRA and the equally counterproductive nationalist rhetoric, a vision based on partnership and reconciliation, of equality between nationalist and unionist in Ireland, a vision to be achieved by the politics of persuasion. His name was John Hume. “I didn’t ask what he had done in the past. I was inspired to join him in helping to build this New Ireland of peace and partnership. Tragically it took almost three more decades of bloodshed, increasing bitterness and injustice before others came to accept his views with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and its promise of a new beginning in our country.
“I believe there is a whole new generation, fed up, as I was 40 years ago, with what now passes for politics. They are unimpressed with daily sham fights, crises, photo opportunities and stalemate. They need hope and a belief that politics can work for them. They want to see, as I did all those years ago, a way out of the present mess, a way forward they can identify with and support.
“Having come to know Colum Eastwood in recent years, I have seen at first hand his wisdom, his ability to inspire others, to win the respect of his colleagues and indeed that of his political opponents.
Having come to know Colum Eastwood in recent years, I have seen at first hand his wisdom, his ability to inspire others, to win the respect of his colleagues and indeed that of his political opponents.John Dallat
“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 which is now being sadly abused by others.
“Colum Eastwood understands the true meaning of peace and reconciliation and has the vision to find the pathway which leads Ireland to a new dawn replacing mistrust and bitterness with love and respect for difference and diversity in a county free from the trappings of conflict.”