SDLP will not enter government unless new roads funded
New leader Colum Eastwood tells delegates infrastructure investment must be part of programme
Colum Eastwood: “But our voice is back, and is getting stronger by the day. The SDLP is back in the conversation”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood says he will take his party into opposition after the Assembly election in the North unless key infrastructure and educational investment is part of a programme for government.
In his first address as leader, four months into the role, Mr Eastwood told delegates at the SDLP party conference in St Columb’s Hall in his home city of Derry that the party would only enter government after May 5th if funding was secured for the A5 and A6 dual-carriageways and expansion at the Ulster University site at Magee.
He also said the SDLP would not enter government “unless there are agreed spending increases for vocational training, university places for undergraduates and postgraduates and apprenticeships”.
At the Ulster Unionist Party spring conference in Armagh, also at the weekend, leader Mike Nesbitt said his party would go into opposition at Stormont if he did not sense from other parties that there was a collective will to deliver a progressive programme for government.
He described their leadership approach as disjointed and dysfunctional with regard to the economy, education, skills and “handing welfare powers to the Tory party”.
Abandoning the SDLP’s usual autumn conference spot, Saturday’s event was less conference and more election rally aimed at halting the serial decline experienced by the party over the past 18 years since the Belfast Agreement, in contrast with Sinn Féin’s rise in popularity with nationalist voters.
‘Voice of sanity’
“But our voice is back, and is getting stronger by the day,” he said. “The SDLP is back in the conversation.”
The SDLP has 14 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but going into the election there are threats to seats in West Belfast, Upper Bann, South Belfast and Foyle.
Mr Eastwood claimed Sinn Féin was stretching itself by running three candidates in Foyle on May 5th, and suggested the party could suffer a loss along the lines of Pádraig MacLochlainn failing to retain his seat in Donegal at last month’s general election in the South.
“The Joint First Minister Martin McGuinness has announced that he is coming back into Derry in the expectation that he will be gifted three seats,” Mr Eastwood said.
“Well Martin should take a look and see what happened recently in Donegal. Three into two won’t go.
“And in a few short weeks’ time Derry will tell them the same.”
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His message to dissident republicans, including those responsible for a recent bomb attack on a prisoner officer in east Belfast, was that they were in conflict with the Irish people and “that is a fight you’ll never win”.
Mr Eastwood called for the devolution of more fiscal powers, telecoms and broadcasting from Westminster.
He also reaffirmed the SDLP’s commitment to campaigning to remain in the EU ahead of the UK membership referendum, which will take place on June 23rd.