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Colum Eastwood welcomes civic nationalism's letter while bemoaning Stormont's dormancy

Colum Eastwood welcomed the open letter from civic nationalism. Picture by Hugh Russell

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has welcomed this week's open letter to Leo Varadkar from 200 representatives of nationalist civic society.

The Foyle MLA has written to each of the signatories to the letter, which called on the taoiseach to support northern nationalists as the UK leaves the EU, describing it as a "important and timely intervention".

Carried in Monday's Irish News, the unprecedented letter to Mr Varadkar said: "The impending reality of Brexit now threatens to reinforce partition on this island and revisit a sense of abandonment as experienced by our parents and grandparents. The fact that a majority of voters in the north of Ireland voted to remain within the EU must not be ignored.

"We, our children and grandchildren should not be forced out of the EU against our democratic will."

However, while the SDLP leader acknowledges that northern nationalism is currently frustrated, he suggests much of this growing concern is derived from having no Stormont institutions and no voice at Westminster.

"The dangerous reality of our politics is that the only local party shaping our political present and future is the DUP – we therefore have every right and every reason to worry," he says.

Mr Eastwood argues that nationalism needs a "better strategy" and one that promotes greater reconciliation, while persuading unionists about the merits of a united Ireland.

He acknowledges Sinn Féin's "electoral strength" but argues that rather than bolstering nationalism, it has resulted in a "return to direct rule".

"The only way to break free from that failed strategy and re-establish northern nationalism's power and place is through the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"The only way our fundamental rights will be delivered as Irish citizens, especially as Brexit unfolds, is by having a local executive and assembly."

The SDLP leader says he is concerned that "nationalism has lost some of our ownership and emphasis in the assembly" and notes how the letter made no mention of the dormant devolved institutions.

Mr Eastwood says the SDLP believes in the authority and role of the Dublin government and of Dáil Éireann.

"But the northern institutions are an integral part of our nationalism too – if we gain our aspiration of a new and reunified Ireland, we will still always support an assembly in the north," his letter states.

"The disrespect of the DUP towards any semblance of Irishness should not push us to abandon that ground – the ground which we built."

The Irish News reported yesterday how the head of the north's Remain campaign, Tom Kelly, was not approached to add his signature to the open letter.

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