Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood calls on unionists to vote for SDLP

By Noel McAdam

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has urgently appealed for unionists to vote for his party in the General Election in the face of a resurgent Sinn Fein.

The Foyle MLA admitted that his party's three former MPs, along with candidates in the other 15 constituencies, are facing a "huge challenge" in the poll, now just three weeks away.

Speaking in South Down, where incumbent MP Margaret Ritchie is facing former Sinn Fein minister Chris Hazzard, Mr Eastwood said he wanted to make a special plea to unionists across the province.

His comments came after Gerry Adams called for a massive push to allow Sinn Fein to "make history" by seizing the constituency from the SDLP.

"In this historic constituency Sinn Fein won 19,083 votes in the Assembly election with Sinead Ennis and Chris Hazzard. That was a dramatic and significant increase," Mr Adams said.

"If we can get out the vote we received in the Assembly election, South Down can make history."

But Mr Eastwood attacked Sinn Fein's "tired and stale" policy of not taking its seats at Westminster and added: "I want to make this appeal directly to unionists. Although the SDLP is a nationalist party we represent everyone, and our MPs punch above their weight.

"If you are opposed to Brexit and to austerity, and you are a unionist, you should vote SDLP."

Although a nationalist party, he said the SDLP wanted to "stand up for everybody" and unlike abstentionist Sinn Fein would represent their constituents and attend House of Commons sessions in Westminster.

The SDLP chief said he understood the anger in the nationalist community and the demand from people to see genuine respect and equality. "But you don't get that by howling at the moon," he said.

"You have to turn up."

Outgoing SDLP MPs Alasdair McDonnell and Mark Durkan also attended the party's campaign launch in Newcastle to hear Mr Eastwood voice concern over a "creeping sense" that it will be all right if the Stormont Executive is not restored until the autumn.

Despite a solid Assembly election, he said the General Election would be "a huge challenge". He added: "We don't take it lightly at all."

Mrs Ritchie and Mr McDonnell, and to an extent Mr Durkan, have all benefited to some extent in the past from unionists voting tactically. Mr Eastwood said elections in the province tended to be "more about beating people, it is more about winning".

"I don't think that either the DUP or Sinn Fein should be allowed to go away from this saying they have beaten the other. What we need to do is figure out a way of working," he continued.

"No government here can work if it is about nationalism trying to dominate unionism, or unionism trying to dominate nationalism. We have to make this place work.

"Brexit is happening, nobody is waiting on us, nobody is waiting on another election in the autumn. We need to get back around the table and do it."

The Foyle MLA said that on the key issue of Brexit the SDLP was part of a progressive alliance in the House of Commons including the Scottish Nationalists.

Attacking the approach of Sinn Fein as a "scorched earth" approach, he said: "This is a critical moment of choice for people in Northern Ireland and in particular for the nationalist community. A scorched earth policy by nationalism has never worked. It won't work now and it won't work in the future."

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