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Bring it on: SDLP leader relishing Foyle battle with SF

By Deborah McAleese

Published 14/03/2016

SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood with his wife Rachael and daughter Rosa
SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood with his wife Rachael and daughter Rosa
Former SDLP leaders John Hume and Mark Durkan MP with Pat Hume

Colum Eastwood says he is ready for battle in his home city where Sinn Fein is targeting three seats in the Assembly elections.

Martin McGuinness is one of the Sinn Fein runners as it tries to replace the SDLP as the largest party in the Foyle constituency.

Derry is one of the few places in Northern Ireland where the SDLP is stronger than Sinn Fein.

During the party's annual conference in the city at the weekend, Mr Eastwood hit out at Sinn Fein.

The SDLP currently has three MLAs in Foyle compared to Sinn Fein's two.

"Martin McGuinness has announced that he is coming back into Derry in the expectation that he will be gifted three seats," Mr Eastwood said.

"Well Martin should take a look and see what happened recently in Donegal. Three into two won't go. And in a few short weeks' time Derry will tell them the same."

He warned that his party will not enter the next Stormont Executive if it is unhappy with the Programme for Government.

That would put the SDLP into an Opposition role.

"In the past this party has stayed within the Executive without signing up to a Programme for Government - that ends now," he said.

"We will only enter the Executive if we can agree to a Programme for Government that actually meets the needs of the people in the North.

"That programme needs to include a commitment to distribute investment in jobs, infrastructure and education across all of Northern Ireland."

He added that in the Republic one of the main policies was to invest in education and skills.

"Stormont's leadership are doing the opposite," he claimed.

Mr Eastwood, who took over as party leader four months ago, also said that Northern Ireland risked being left behind in the digital age and called for a more agile and innovative public sector and government to deal with "the white heat of this revolution".

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