Belfast Telegraph

Colum Eastwood: SDLP Fianna Fail decision about offering people a platform for change right across Ireland

By Colum Eastwood

The SDLP has a strong history of making tough decisions in the interests of the people we represent. Time and time again we have taken difficult but important decisions at important moments in our history.

The decision of the SDLP membership to support a partnership with Fianna Fail was a decision to embrace change. We've done that many times before.

We are proud of our history and proud of the massive change our party has brought to Ireland.

We are also determined social democrats - everything we do, each and every day, is focused on creating a more prosperous and fair society.

Those values remain. Our new departure is about offering a platform for change right across Ireland.

We recognise that we cannot convince people that we know the way forward if we are continually looking back. This generation of SDLP leaders wants to write a new chapter and create a new legacy.

I always think that one of the most remarkable moments in our modern politics came just before Dr Ian Paisley, after a lifetime of opposition, crossed the Rubicon and embraced power-sharing.

Standing outside the door of Downing Street, Dr Paisley gave the pragmatic analysis that "... the time to take it is when the tide is running. There is a tide in the affairs of man taken at a flood, and I think the tide is running in people's minds and hearts and consciences this way."

I believe the SDLP today must recognise the shifting context and changing hearts and minds of people here. Business as usual is no longer an option. People are crying out for something different, for a new political dynamic. One that is robust, all-Ireland and stands ready to meet the challenges of our changing world.

I believe our partnership with Fianna Fail has the energy, drive and determination to match the growing appetite for change that is brewing across these islands.

That is why on Saturday our membership overwhelmingly voted in favour of embarking on a new political journey with Fianna Fail. A partnership built on a genuine desire to deliver for people across Ireland, driven by an ambition to see power returned to local politicians and tasked with changing the lives of people who have for too long been let down by our politics here.

Together, SDLP and Fianna Fail members, representatives and activists will forge a new relationship based on our proud and shared tradition of democratic struggle on this island. We will work together to begin in an unprecedented programme of public engagement in Northern Ireland, framing an ambitious and practical policy agenda for the future of this island and our people.

And just to be clear. This new partnership is not about leaving anyone behind. It is the opposite. We want to create a space for all those, either newly awakened or long desiring of the New Ireland that Hume envisioned. Young and old and from all backgrounds.

We are ready to begin that work.

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