Northern Ireland news

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tells DUP to ‘get back to work'

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has used his party conference speech to call on the DUP to “get back to work” (PA)
Cillian Sherlock, PA

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has used his party conference speech to call on the DUP to “get back to work”.

He said the DUP must “come to terms with the significance of that massive majority in favour of the Windsor Framework”.

He added: “Twenty-five years on, the truth is that the DUP still haven’t come to terms with the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Eastwood said people in Northern Ireland have been left without a government in the middle of a health-service and cost-of-living crisis.

“The DUP need to get back to work or get out of the way,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said powersharing is about making decisions to transform Northern Ireland.

“Sharing power isn’t just about sharing out ministerial Skodas,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said there are 500,000 people on hospital appointment waiting lists, “one in four children living in poverty” and 10,000 households deemed to be homeless.

He also issued a “warning” to the British government.

“Keep your hands off the principle of consent. It cannot be altered to buy off hardline unionism. We won’t allow it,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said the SDLP has set out an “ambitious agenda of reform” for the Northern Ireland Assembly, including equal titles of “first ministers”, co-nomination of heads of government, a reduction of votes subject to one-party veto and a new weighted majority for appointing a speaker.

“It’s time to remove the poisonous politics of veto from the beginning of every mandate,” he said, adding SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone should be the new speaker.

However, he said if reforms cannot be secured then the only alternative is a “new settlement that retains power with the Irish and British traditions that share this island”.

“If political parties will not work together then there must be a new model of shared stewardship between the British and Irish governments,” he said.

“That is the only way to accommodate the identities, ambitions and aspirations of our people.”

On the subject of European Union membership and reunification, Mr Eastwood said rejoining the EU “can only be done in a new Ireland”.

He added: “The reunification of this island is motivated by an unshakable conviction that by every measurable outcome we can build a better health service, we can build a better education service, we can build a better economy.”

However, he said integrating two health services “will be one of the most significant challenges our movement faces”.

He said his party’s New Ireland Commission has “shifted gear” in terms of public engagement and reaching out to unionist communities.

“In our words and in our actions we are meeting the duty to tell our unionist neighbours the fundamental truth,” he said.

“You belong to this place every bit as much as we do. Therefore you have the very same right to shape and share the future of this island.”

Setting out ambitions for the party, including tackling climate change, he said the SDLP’s first priority in a new Assembly would be to address “the outrageous cost of childcare”.

“The SDLP will work day and night to deliver 30 hours’ free childcare per week for the parents of all children under the age of five,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said he also wanted to candidly address recent electoral performance.

“Our party has just been through a bruising electoral contest that exacted a high price from our parliamentary team,” he said.

“Polls and surveys have not made for comfortable reading.”

However, he said the SDLP is a party with a new mission.

“We are a party that is ready to get back to work again and we will win again,” he said.

Northern Ireland news