Belfast Telegraph

SDLP committed to restoring power-sharing, insists Eastwood

Resolution hopes: Colum Eastwood
Resolution hopes: Colum Eastwood
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called on all parties to reconcile their differences as Northern Ireland approaches three years without a functioning government.

The newly-elected Foyle MP said that while politicians have "squabbled", life has become immeasurably more difficult for too many people.

Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill also said her party is aiming to get the political institutions back up and running for everyone.

December's talks, aimed at securing a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont, ended on Friday without a deal.

It is believed that the main issue revolves around the petition of concern mechanism, which has been used to veto issues such as same-sex marriage.

One suggestion is to make it more difficult for one party to use the petition to block controversial legislation.

Mr Eastwood believes politicians' minds should be focused on nurses giving up their Christmas with their families to care for patients, families worried about welfare cuts and young people who have left Northern Ireland for better prospects.

"Christmas offers us a moment to reflect on the year that's passing and how we, as political leaders, have sought to improve the lives of people across the north," he said.

"Our minds should be focused on the nurses and health service staff who will again give up Christmas with their families to care for those in need.

"They'll do so under immense pressure and without pay parity this year. We can do better for them.

"We should be called to act for the most vulnerable, struggling to provide for their families, who face the loss of welfare mitigations in a few months. We should do better for them," the Foyle MP added.

"And we should yearn to stem the flow of talented young people from our shores, leaving empty seats at Christmas tables across our communities, because they've been forced to seek opportunity elsewhere. We must do better for them."

Mr Eastwood said January will mark three years since the collapse of Stormont and political parties have an opportunity to restore not just the Executive but the public's faith in politicians.

"If this moment passes us by, it will be a long time before we get another," he said.

"The SDLP will do everything in our power to secure a resolution that delivers for public sector workers, resources our hospitals and schools, provides opportunity and hope to our young people and defends the most vulnerable."

Meanwhile, Mrs O'Neill said that Sinn Fein is committed to the restoration of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement on the basis of equality and respect.

"There is a real opportunity to successfully conclude the talks and have a sitting Assembly and Executive to address the crisis in our health and public services," she said.

"Progress and resolution is imperative. There is an overwhelming appetite in the public for good government formed without further delay.

"Sinn Fein's focus is firmly on achieving an agreement to the outstanding issues and getting the political institutions back up and running and working for everyone in the new year," the MLA added.

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