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Colum Eastwood says SDLP will ask itself difficult questions after electoral wipe out

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with Mark Durkan at the Foyle election count. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

COLUM Eastwood has said there are no questions the SDLP is not prepared to face in the post-mortem into last Thursday's election disaster.

The 34-year-old's third election since he succeeded Alasdair McDonnell as leader in November 2015 saw his party lose all three of its Westminster seats, including its stronghold of Foyle.

Across the north, the party's overall vote fell to 95,419 – an 11.7 per cent share, down three percentage points on 2015.

In recent years there has been speculation that in order to survive, the SDLP will have to build formal links with a party in the Republic, most likely Fianna Fáil.

However, both are currently being cautious in any public discussions about co-operation.

In a weekend statement, Mr Eastwood conceded that the Westminster outcome was "undoubtedly difficult".

He said his party would not "rush into any knee-jerk reactions" but neither would it be slow to address its shortcomings.

"The last number of elections has revealed the depth of political change occurring across these islands – therefore it is only right and natural that as a party we are up for the challenge of changing too," he said.

"We have heard the verdict of the voters, we accept that verdict, and we now intend to listen hard to understand what has been said to us and how we can best respond."

The Foyle MLA said there were no questions the SDLP would not be prepared to face.

"We will not shy away from attempting to provide answers to those questions – even if those answers include the unprecedented or the uncomfortable," he said.

"I want to make clear it will not be a conversation centred solely on the future of the SDLP – it will be a conversation centred on the future of the country."

Mr Eastwood added that the SDLP would not abandon those who voted for the party as they had a right to representation.

"Every politician and political commentator should learn the lesson of the recent past – in politics there is no such thing as the inevitable particularly when it is so transparently failing our people," he said.

"Northern nationalism deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no assembly and has now placed us at the mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories."

He said Brexit was precipitating "huge constitutional and economic change" across Britain and Ireland but warned that "politics is retreating into the comfort of old battles".

"There is no future if the north continues to be locked into a political arm wrestle which no one can win."

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