SDLP chief: Next DUP leader must reflect on how to build ‘more united community’
The SDLP leader has said Northern Ireland needs political leaders who are committed to the institutions of devolution and wanting to “make this place work”.
Colum Eastwood urged those who will soon declare their intentions “to reflect on how we can build a more united community”.
The Foyle MP made the comments as he extended his best wishes to DUP leader Arlene Foster despite their “differences” as she announced she was standing down from frontline politics.
Mrs Foster said she will stand down as party leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June.
The announcement comes 24 hours after a sizeable internal heave against her by DUP politicians unhappy with her leadership.
Mr Eastwood said: “I want to extend my personal good wishes to Arlene Foster and her family as she steps back from frontline politics and prepares to stand down as First Minister in June.
“We disagree on almost everything but she has clearly been a committed servant to her party for a long time.
“The circumstances that have led to the First Minister’s resignation are deeply concerning.
“That a political leader would be removed from office by their party for failing to support conversion therapy is distressing and will cause some alarm for members of our LGBT+ community.
“They should know that we will not roll back on the progress we’ve made or deny them their rights.”
Mr Eastwood said whoever takes over as DUP leader and First Minister will inherit the “same febrile political situation” that politicians have been dealing with for months.
“Neither the British Government nor the European Union will alter their position on the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he said.
“Regardless of personnel changes – the fundamental problems have not changed and therefore neither have the solutions.
“We need parties and political leaders who are committed to the institutions of devolution and want to make this place work.”
“As a leader of nationalism, I want to work with confident, outward-looking and generous leaders within unionism to deliver the change that our communities so badly need.
“A lurch to the politics of division, intransigence and deadlock would be a mistake. In a spirit of co-operation, I urge those who will soon declare their intentions to reflect on how we can build a more united community.
“The SDLP will be willing partners for those who genuinely want to address the challenges we face constructively and together.”
“I wish Arlene all the best for the future.”
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry described Mrs Foster as “heavily committed to public service”.
Mr Farry tweeted: “I wish Arlene Foster well. I have known Arlene for 30 years, and have worked with her on achieving record levels of inward investment to NI.
“She has been heavily committed to public service. There will be other chances to talk of her legacy as DUP leader and what happens next.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “I have no doubt this has been a very difficult day for Arlene Foster and that the speed of her dispatch will have added to the hurt.
“I therefore wish Mrs Foster and her family all the best for the future.”
Mr Allister said he had known Mrs Foster for many years dating back to when they both practised law.
“In all my dealings with her I found her straightforward and honourable, whatever our political differences,” he said.
“Going forward, I trust the new DUP leader will be wholly committed to restoring the Union and undoing the severe damage done by the iniquitous protocol.
“Only the unstitching of the Union-dismantling protocol can restore our place within the United Kingdom and afford us the equal citizenship we require. This should be the priority of every unionist.”