Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election a chance to maximise Remain voices, says SDLP's Eastwood

Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Former independent unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon was the "lone but strong voice" for people in Northern Ireland opposed to Brexit, a nationalist leader has said.

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Colum Eastwood yesterday launched the SDLP's General Election manifesto with a tribute to Lady Sylvia Hermon - Northern Ireland's sole anti-Brexit voice in the House of Commons.

And the Foyle candidate also laid in to chief rival Sinn Fein for failing to represent Remainers in Parliament - despite the SDLP standing aside in North Belfast, a move seen as helping the republican party in its bid to unseat the DUP's Nigel Dodds.

He said: "In the last two years we've been either misrepresented or not represented. In this election, we have an opportunity to send voices and votes to Westminster that can stand up for us and stand against the DUP.

"In this election we simply can't afford the luxury of voicing a strong protest. Turning your back on Brexit and ignoring it won't prevent it from happening. Preventing it means facing it head on - it means voting against it. It means voting for people who will go to work and vote against it.

"There is a real risk that if the same pattern of results repeats itself in this election, only the DUP will take seats and hold sway in Westminster.

"I can think of no stronger motivation to go out and vote."

He said it was fortunate "that there was a lone voice but a strong voice during the last two years".

"I want to use this opportunity to pay tribute on behalf of the SDLP to Sylvia Hermon who has decided to stand down," Mr Eastwood said.

"Sylvia may have been surrounded by the DUP but she was never silenced by them. When Sylvia Hermon spoke, she spoke for all of us. None of us viewed her through the silos of the traditional divide in Northern Ireland - she was our remain voice and she will be badly missed."

Mr Eastwood said the election "is a chance to maximise the Remain representation across Northern Ireland".

"That is what motivated the SDLP to take a lead in making that ambition a reality and removing as many damaging DUP votes as possible," he said.

"That was a choice not about pacts but about protection - protecting us from Boris Johnson and protecting us from Brexit.

"The choice made by the SDLP was to be strategic, not selfish."

Mr Eastwood dismissed suggestions from Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald that nothing could be gained by sitting in the Commons.

He added: "History doesn't judge those who don't turn up at defining moments - it casts a far harsher verdict. It simply doesn't mention them because they make no difference. You only make a difference by being there."

He pointed to a number of issues - including fair employment legislation, creation of the PSNI, and pension rights for factory workers - all secured, he said, by his party being present on the green benches.

He added: "Ask anybody who can count if there is going to be a difference made by MPs sitting in Westminster.

"This thing could be decided on the basis of a couple of votes. Brexit is being done to us against our will and Sinn Fein don't want to vote. They want to stand outside, that is up to them.

"Let them tell people, if this goes badly, where they were when the battle was being fought. We will be inside facing down Boris Johnston and the DUP and standing up for people in Northern Ireland."

Like Sinn Fein, the SDLP launched its manifesto in Londonderry - an indication of how serious the two nationalist parties view the battle for Foyle, which was decided by just 169 votes in 2017.

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