SDLP states openness to ‘new union of Ireland’

Colum Eastwood stresses language in reply to James Nesbitt’s ‘united Ireland’ remark

The SDLP is open to the idea of a "new union of Ireland" rather than a "united Ireland", the party leader has said, following the call by leading actor and Ulster University chancellor James Nesbitt.

"Language is important," said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, "and it's very important if we're talking about people who are afraid of any change. We have to make them comfortable and, more importantly, feel part of the conversation."

In a widely read interview in The Irish Times on Saturday, Nesbitt said he believed a Border poll was inevitable, but an opportunity existed “to start getting away from language that is incendiary” and caused divisions.

He said a “new union of Ireland” could respect Protestant identity, offer Protestants an equal voice in a progressive, inclusive, diverse and prosperous society where they “can be proud to be from the north of Ireland”.


“I think it is a goer,” said Mr Eastwood. “We always believed it wasn’t just about the constitutional framework in which the country would sit, but it was also, most importantly, about uniting the people.”

‘Nationalist conversation’

However, Nesbitt's arguments were immediately rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party's Jim Wells, who said he was typical of those "from our community, who have made a small fortune on the mainland and who seem to have lost all sense of where they come from and who they are".

"The only people who are having a conversation about a united Ireland are nationalists," he said, "If anyone was having that conversation in pubs or in church halls or in Orange halls I would say, 'He's got a point', but they're not."

The UUP MLA for Upper Bann, Doug Beattie, said he agreed with Nesbitt that politicians had failed the people of Northern Ireland. "I am one of those politicians, and I have failed because I am not doing the job that I was elected to do," he said.

“I don’t think there’s any politician who can look at the state we’re in and say, ‘Well done to us’,” said Mr Beattie, adding that conversations about Northern Ireland’s future – and a potential united Ireland – needed to be had.

“I think that conversation is extremely important. You can be a proud unionist, a proud Protestant, a proud loyalist and you can still talk about what life would be like if it was in a united Ireland,” he told The Irish Times.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times