Eastwood: I welcome ‘constructive criticism’ from unionists

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

The leader of the SDLP has said he accepts “constructive criticism” about how unionists are perceived, as he responded to a letter signed by a raft of unionist figures.

Colum Eastwood was reacting to a letter – published in the News Letter on Tuesday, and in other media – which bore the names of 105 signatories including ex-PUP leader Dawn Purvis, UUP figure Doug Beattie, former NI Conservatives chairman Trevor Ringland, and Green Party councillor John Barry, and many more.

The letter had 105 signatories, including ex-PUP leader Dawn Purvis, top UUP figure Doug Beattie, former NI Conservatives chairman Trevor Ringland, and Green Party councillor John Barry, and many more.

The letter said “civic unionists” and “pluralists” have been “rendered invisible in many debates focused on rights and responsibilities”; it also went on to challenge the idea that “rights, truth, equality and civil liberties” were alien to civic unionism.

In response on Wednesday, Mr Eastwood said the letter presented an “important challenge” – namely, that “rather than talking amongst each other, we must instead seek to speak to one another”.

He added: “We all know the position in which northern politics finds itself.

“There is no future if our political conversation continues to be locked in an arm-wrestle which no-one can win.

“I hope that your letter is another important step in loosening that grip which has only resulted in a further polarisation of our society...

“I accept the constructive criticism that in too many cases uniformity has been painted upon unionism when the truth tells us that no such uniformity exists.

“I know that the unionist people are much more diverse, open, creative and complex than the positions espoused by Arlene Foster.”

He added that the letter is “a welcome opportunity to get back to the solution we all agreed in 1998”.

Mr Eastwood’s response follows that of Sinn Fein, whose regional leader Michelle O’Neill has already said she “welcomed the initiative by some within civic unionism for their voices to be heard in the public debate on rights and equality”.