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Eastwood's leadership will seek 'practical pathway to unity'

Colum Eastwood at the launch of his bid for leadership of the SDLP. Picture by Declan Roughan

STABLE and effective government at Stormont will help achieve the ultimate goal of Irish unity, SDLP leadership candidate Colum Eastwood has said.

The Foyle assembly member was speaking last night in Belfast at the official launch of his bid to unseat Alasdair McDonnell at next month's party conference.

Mr Eastwood (32) announced his leadership candidacy last month following months of speculation. After a poor performance in May's general election, Dr McDonnell faced calls to quit from senior SDLP figures past and present.

The SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly is also facing a challenge from South Belfast MLA Fearghal McKinney.

Speaking on Friday night at what was the first of a series of scheduled appearances ahead of the November 14 leadership vote, Mr Eastwood said a "fair, prosperous and reconciled" Northern Ireland with an effective government was vital for everybody - and crucial to building a "practical pathway to unity".

Mr Eastwood, who joined the SDLP in 1998 to campaign for an endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement, said the party would "not indulge the idea that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity".

"It must be successful politically and economically so that we can deliver prosperity and equality to all those who live here," he said.

"Our challenge is to work together to deliver this and it is one that I relish."

The former Mayor of Derry, who was elected to the Stormont assembly in 2011, said under his leadership the SDLP would "fight for a sustainable economy with prosperity and equality at the core".

"Any successful devolution of corporation tax powers cannot disguise the total failure to invest properly in infrastructure and the ongoing cuts in further and higher education," he said.

"The benefits of any sustained future economic growth must be shared by everyone."

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