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DUP has no clear strategy over Brexit , says SDLP's Eastwood

By Colm Kelpie

Colum Eastwood has warned that Brexit is fuelling a new restlessness within Irish nationalism north of the border. The SDLP leader said that he did not believe that the DUP had a strategy - and that they had been swept up in a British nationalism "which was actually an English nationalism".

He told the Irish Independent: "If you were a strategic unionist, you would have done everything in your power to make sure you stayed in the European Union.

"That Irish nationalism didn't feel restless, as we now do. That you supported the Good Friday Agreement and allowed for people to build relationships across this island and to get comfortable and confident, and for the economy to work.

"But they have supported the policy of Brexit and are now supporting a hard Brexit, I just cannot understand it."

Prior to Brexit, nationalism in the North was "comfortable", he argued, adding the "constitutional sands" on the island have now shifted.

"When you talked about a united Ireland (prior to Brexit), there weren't many people looking to talk back.

"But now that has just shifted massively, and I think Northern nationalists are looking for an accelerated process around that," he said.

Eastwood supports the idea of a border poll, but not immediately, saying that the conversation needs to take place "at some point in the future".

He insisted a lot of groundwork is required for that conversation, including how to encourage unionism to join it.

Eastwood believes one way of doing that is to argue that the Good Friday Agreement in a united Ireland should be maintained.

"Our strong view is that in a united Ireland the (Good Friday) agreement, probably tweaked, but the agreement would be maintained, so there would be a Stormont institution, there would be power-sharing ... but that unionist identity and the fact that the North is different would have to be recognised within any future united Ireland," he said.

"Unionist identity can be respected. This is the bastion of unionism traditionally and historically, I would argue that we can keep it.

"Unionism would play a very strong part in a power sharing arrangement here and a very strong part in any future Government in the Oireachtas."

Mr Eastwood said that politics in Northern Ireland was now polarised to a level that "suited" both Sinn Fein and the DUP.

"Sometimes up here, the flag trumps everything, and a more nuanced moderate position doesn't always get through," he said. "And Arlene Foster has been the biggest gift for Sinn Fein in many years. She has created a need in many nationalists' minds to kick back, and they did."

Mr Eastwood played down hopes of a return to power-sharing at Stormont.

He said: "The SDLP was born out of a tumultuous time in history, an important time for people to stand up and give big views on where Ireland was going," he said.

"We're probably there again and we have to make sure people hear. We've been giving the best answers to all of these problems. This place is not pre-destined to fail all the time."

Meanwhile, former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie has warned that the sharing of cross-border policing expertise could become extremely difficult after Brexit.

She said: "I think Brexit is going to pose so many challenges for law enforcement - European arrest warrants, exchange of information, intelligence, fingerprints, DNA, all those things. I have much concern.

"And any type of hard border will have very significant costs both north and south.

"In the context of shrinking public sector costs that is going to be a real challenge - to continue to deliver policing, in the context of additional costs to policing a hard border. It is a big concern," she said.

Ms Gillespie, who retired from the PSNI in 2014, joined the Irish Policing Authority last year.

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