Belfast Telegraph

Colum Eastwood: Why the very future of power-sharing is at risk in this unwanted poll

Anger at scandal-hit Stormont can be a powerful catalyst for change in Thursday's Assembly election, says SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

On Thursday, Northern Ireland will head to the Assembly polls for the second time in less than a year. There have been heroic attempts to formulate distractions about what this election is actually about.

Is it about the 'Cash for Ash' scandal? Or is it about Brexit? Is it about the arrogance of Arlene Foster? Or is it about Sinn Fein covering their tracks for their lack of delivery in government?

There is always a danger in the north that, because of our complex history, we always end up complicating the present.

The truth of this election is a lot simpler. Of course, it is about all of the above things. But, most of all, this is an election about the collapse and failure of a government.

Nine months on, the 'Fresh Start' government they offered is not only stale - it has more than a whiff of corruption about it.

The corruption of a simple renewable energy scheme spread quickly to the heart of government. The caustic combination of scandal and a soured relationship within Stormont Castle has poisoned our politics.

People are right to be angry. It is an anger that knows no class, no creed, no constitutional view.

People aren't just fed up with the series of scandals that brought the government to its knees - they're furious.

That raw resentment of the failure to make this place work has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for change. It only needs an alternative.

I have already pledged that on Day One of a new government, the SDLP is ready to do business. There is no need for a protracted negotiation, no need for the same, pointless pantomime.

On day one, we will set about an emergency health budget to relieve the pressure on primary care, on our heroic frontline health service staff and on patients, who have waited long enough for care.

We will also face up to the challenge and threat posed to our economic and social security by Brexit. Make no mistake about it: this is the most dangerous development on this island since partition.

I have already held meetings with European leaders and heads of state to make the case for special status for Northern Ireland. We have friends in Europe, who are willing to stand with us. Where the outgoing Executive was weak, we will stand strong against a hard border in Ireland.

This election is a chance to fix what has gone before. It is a chance to fix the corruption that has come to characterise our Executive. Fixing this place will require a return and a renewal of real partnership.

On Thursday, there are many different futures on offer - but the only future worth knowing embraces co-operation. Difference doesn't have to mean division - it doesn't have to mean deadlock.

More and more, it looks like Sinn Fein and the DUP offer a return to British direct rule. Therefore, this election is a critical moment for power-sharing.

Northern Ireland will head to the polls with a clear choice. It is a choice between more of the same, or the choice of partnership and progress.

It is a choice between handing power over to the Tories, or the choice of having a government here that can actually work. The SDLP fought with everything we had to bring power back to our soil after the long years of violence. Our people, north and south, won that battle in 1998.

As we enter into the final stretch of this campaign, it is that power - the very idea of power-sharing in the north - which is now at risk.

Devolution belongs to the people - it should not be removed because some parties are not capable of the challenge and the compromise of being in government.

In that context, people in the north have a fundamental and defining choice. If you believe that power and decisions should be retained on Irish soil, then come out and vote for that on Thursday.

If you believe that, at a time of instability and insecurity, the north needs a local voice and local government that can speak for us, then come out and vote for that on Thursday.

If you believe that nationalists and unionists can share power and work together for the common good, then come out and vote for that on Thursday.

The SDLP is putting forward a new team - a new team that has the ability to govern for all.

We are asking for your support to make change happen.

Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP and an election candidate in Foyle

Belfast Telegraph


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