SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he cannot celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland as his party’s goal is “at odds with the celebration of partition”.
However, he added that it was “wrong” to suggest that his party will not take part in centenary events.
Mr Eastwood’s comments come after the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland criticised nationalist politicians for not engaging with centenary events.
Archbishop Eamon Martin said he was “disappointed that many of our nationalist and republican political leaders have dismissed the centenary of 2021 altogether”.
Sinn Fein previously said the event was not a cause for celebration within nationalism, while the SDLP declined to take part in the Northern Ireland Office’s (NIO) centenary forum.
Archbishop Martin said: “If we could accept that people on this island approach their belonging from very different perspectives — that was key to the Good Friday Agreement: that we would recognise legitimate aspirations on the island and that to me is something that we’re better not to run away from, but to face.”
Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Mr Eastwood, who previously objected to the “cynical” use of Seamus Heaney’s image in the centenary campaign, said the experience of communities “like mine” are critical to the story of Northern Ireland.
He added that he refused Secretary of State’s Brandon Lewis’s offer to join the centenary forum because the NIO had little intention of reflecting on an experience of partition that “did not meet their celebratory top line”.
“This is an important moment and we will stretch ourselves, as we have throughout the decade of centenaries and throughout our history, as part of a mature conversation about the future of these islands,” said the SDLP leader.
“What we remain opposed to, is those who seek to straighten the arc of our history to suit a single narrative.
“The SDLP will be honest with people — we believe that the interests of people on this island are best served in a united a prosperous new Ireland. We will pursue that vision.
“But it is my firm conviction that as relationships across our island, and between our islands, continue to evolve as a result of the constitutional upheaval we have experienced over the last five years, that we are all called to build that new future together.”