Northern Ireland

Colum Eastwood to contest Foyle 'two horse race' and Naomi Long likely to stand in East Belfast

Colum Eastwood said the Foyle contest was a 'two-horse race'. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Colum Eastwood said the Foyle contest was a 'two-horse race'. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

COLUM Eastwood has reversed his previous assertion that an Irish nationalist party cannot be led from Westminster as he announced plans to contest the Foyle seat in December's general election.

The SDLP leader is seeking to overturn Elisha McCallion's slim majority and retake the seat his party had previously held since the early 1980s.

Sinn Féin won the seat in 2017, beating Mr Eastwood's predecessor Mark Durkan by just 169 votes.

Mr Durkan resigned as SDLP leader in 2009, at the time saying the party could not be led from Westminster. Mr Eastwood, who is contesting his first general election, made a similar assertion in 2015 during his successful campaign to replace Alasdair McDonnell as SDLP leader.

But with Stormont suspended and unlikely to return in the near future, the Foyle MLA said it was time to consider the "uncomfortable and the unprecedented".

"Brexit is a national emergency – it threatens people, businesses and communities across this island, but particularly in Derry where travelling across the border for work, to visit family or to socialise is a basic part of our lives," he said.

Mr Eastwood said the Foyle contest was a "two-horse race" and that the December 12 poll was a "very important election".

"We know the scale of the challenge we’re facing – the time for talking is now over, now it’s time to take control of our own future, stand up for ourselves and vote Boris Johnson’s Brexit down," he said.

"This is a time for leadership. I understand that when the stakes are this high, you have to be prepared to take on the uncomfortable and the unprecedented."

Meanwhile, Alliance leader Naomi Long looks set to confirm that she will challenge the DUP's sitting MP Gavin Robinson in East Belfast.

The Alliance MEP took the seat in a shock result in 2010 but was defeated five years later. In the 2017 Westminster election, Mr Robinson held East Belfast with a majority of 8,474.

While Mrs Long looks the most likely challenger to the incumbent, her candidacy is not expected to be officially confirmed until next week.

"The party is undergoing a selection process and will make an announcement in due course," a party spokesman said.