Belfast Telegraph

Special place in hell for those calling for border poll with no united Ireland plan, says SDLP's Eastwood

Sinn Fein told 'do your duty' in SDLP leader's historic address to Fianna Fail ard fheis

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood used his historic address to the Fianna Fail ard fheis to tell Sinn Fein to do their duty and restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland adding there was a "special place reserved in hell" for those calling for a border poll with no plan as to how a united Ireland would work.

He said nationalists should not be seduced into thinking Assembly was a "convenience but not a necessity" and there could be no hope of reconciliation without the devolved institutions at Stormont.

He said he and their new Fianna Fail partners would "fight" to ensure government returns.

"There is no hope of delivering integrated economic and social progress across this island without an Assembly at Stormont," he said.

"There is no way of fully protecting our people against the devastating consequences of Brexit without an Assembly in Stormont.

"And for any real republican, there is no pathway towards a New Ireland without an Assembly in Stormont."

How can anyone use the pretence of patriotism to avoid their responsibilities to protect the citizens of this country?

Echoing the remarks of the European Council president on Brexit, the MLA, addressing Sinn Fein's near constant calls for a border poll said there was a "special place in hell" for those calling for such a vote without first plan on how a united Ireland would work.

He also indicated Sinn Fein's opposition to Brexit was "empty rhetoric" without taking the actions they were capable of.

"There is no point saying you oppose Brexit if you’re not prepared to turn up and vote against it," he told the conference delegates.

"This country is in the middle of a national emergency. In Britain, Theresa May’s majority is disintegrating before our eyes.

"How can anyone use the pretence of patriotism to avoid their responsibilities to protect the citizens of this country?

"I say this to Sinn Fein – its still an empty formula, get in there and do your duty to this country or be forever defined by empty rhetoric."

We recognise the deep divisions that exist across our community and we know that it will take real leadership to begin to bring our communities together.

Mr Eastwood said those with the view unionists as unbending to change and or "doesn't believe in rights" needed to be "faced down".

He said: "That cannot be the basis of our vision - this is not 1968 and we are not 2nd class citizens anymore. 

"I for one am tired of hearing that argument.

"We diminish ourselves by its repetition and we diminish the progress which has been secured by previous generations.

"If we can’t provide a place of opportunity and belonging for our unionist neighbours - then it simply isn’t worth having

Extraordinary times call for more than ordinary measures.

Eastwood's address was the first since he and Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin announced a partnership between their two parties. While the SDLP membership endorsed the link-up it has led to prominent representatives resigning their positions with the party in opposition to the move.

"Extraordinary times call for more than ordinary measures," Mr Eastwood went on.

"Brexit encompasses change on every level. The current political stew is bubbling with issues of identity, belonging and culture – it’s no longer just the economy, stupid. 

"Brexit has changed everything in this regard - and will continue to change everything.

"We are coming together to shape the change before us."

With the centenary of partition and subsequent creation of Northern Ireland approaching Mr Eastwood said "meaningful reconciliation" between the nationalist and unionist communities must be a priority.

He said it was important to reach out to unionists and say that while they were working toward a united Ireland "they also need to hear that while we want to shape the change ahead, we want to make Northern Ireland work right now."

He continued: "A new and reconciled Ireland will only ever be built by fully recognising the changing island of today.

"For our young people especially, the picture of their world is no longer reflected in the murals of our past. Old political certainties and old majorities are no more.

"On an island of new minorities the only option is to build a broad coalition for change. That changed Ireland won’t be built upon the rubble of our history - it will instead be based on the values we invest in modern nationhood."

The SDLP leader said the purpose of a "new Ireland can’t be guided by a blind obsession with historic wrongs - it should be about creating opportunity for our emerging generations".

"We will only succeed in reaching that New Ireland if we first provide it with definition and detail. And no referendum should be called until that work is done.

"There will be a special place reserved in hell for those who call for a border poll in Ireland with no plan and idea on how to actually deliver it."

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