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Colum Eastwood set to become first SDLP leader to address UUP conference

By Rebecca Black

Published 21/10/2016

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood will be topping the bill at the Ulster Unionist Party conference in Belfast tomorrow.

Mr Eastwood's party recently entered Opposition with the UUP at Stormont.

It will be the first time that a serving SDLP leader has addressed the UUP conference.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes between the two parties, but he was conscious that people want to see "tangible signs of cooperation".

"Margaret Ritchie addressed our annual conference in 2007, while she was Social Development Minister, so this will be the first time we have welcomed a serving leader of the SDLP to our annual showcase,"Mr Nesbitt added.

"It's something the two parties of the Executive are unlikely to match in the foreseeable future.

"We will not agree on everything, but rather than dwell on what divides us, I am focused on the common ground and, importantly, the fact that Colum and I both want Northern Ireland to work, which opens huge possibilities for cooperating on the bread and butter issues of the economy, education, housing and the health of all our people."

Mr Eastwood said: "This is a demonstration of what genuine cooperation looks like. Two leaders of two parties with different views coming together, not in our own narrow self-interest, but in the interests of people across this region who deserve better from government.

"It's the principle of partnership, ingrained in our institutions by the SDLP and UUP and degraded by the current Government, that brings us together on issues of common cause where we can make a positive difference. Both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists share the common ground of wanting to make Northern Ireland work."

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