SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urges people to vote tactically to restore Stormont Assembly after election

The leader of the SDLP has urged tactical votes for his party to revive the Stormont Assembly.

SDLP Party Leader Colum Eastwood.
SDLP Party Leader Colum Eastwood.

The power-sharing Executive effectively collapsed earlier this year following the resignation of DUP First Minister Paul Givan.

His resignation was part of DUP tactics to force the UK Government to act over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the post-Brexit arrangements which unionist parties oppose as a border in the Irish Sea.

Colum Eastwood said the issues that matter most to people include the cost-of-living crisis and urged those feeling frustrated to vote differently.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Eastwood said many of his party’s electoral targets will be battles for the fifth and final seat with the DUP in various constituencies.

“The biggest problem is that even people who are out working are worried about turning the heating on or putting food on the table for their kids, nurses out doing a difficult shift on wards and then coming home and not able to turn their heating on, that’s a disgrace in a modern democracy,” he said.

“It’s happening right now and there is £300 million in Stormont that hasn’t been spent.

“That’s the issue we should all be focused on, we need to get back to Stormont to deal with it because Boris Johnson is not going to do it, no-one is going to help us, we have to work together.

“It’s important that people don’t just get frustrated and then don’t vote. If people are frustrated and angry, they need to come out and vote for something different. I think if people do that, we can see a real change at Stormont.

“We have had the DUP and Sinn Fein running the institutions now for 15 years, I don’t think anybody has done very well out of that.

“My view is we should change that, we should put different types of politicians who want to work together, who don’t want to walk out of government like Sinn Fein did for three years, like Jeffrey Donaldson has done now.

“What people need to do is vote for an alternative and the SDLP are best-placed to attract those votes.”

The SDLP emerged as the third largest party following the last Assembly election in 2017, with 12 seats behind Sinn Fein with 27 and the DUP with 28.

Opinion polls have suggested Sinn Fein may emerge on top this year, which would allow a nationalist party for the first time to nominate a First Minister.

Mr Eastwood said with the First Minister and deputy First Minister being a joint office, the reality is there has been a nationalist first minister since Seamus Mallon in 1998.

“I frankly think that battle is done, I think Sinn Fein will win that battle, but what we need to do is a different type of Executive,” he said.

“In many of the constituencies where we’re fighting to gain a seat, it’s with the DUP for the fifth seat, so I think if people in most of those constituencies want to beat the DUP or send them a message, it’s to vote for the SDLP and even lend us your vote in certain place. That will make the biggest impact on what the Executive looks like not just who fills that job.

“It’s about transfers, they’re all five-seat constituencies, so if you want to see change you have to think very carefully about your vote and if the last seat is between the DUP and the SDLP, then the SDLP is obviously the choice even if you normally vote for another party but you want to see fewer DUP MLAs, and I think that’s how you do it.”

The SDLP had one minister, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, in the last mandate.

Mr Eastwood said they want to see two SDLP ministers, which he said could potentially happen if his party gains three or four more seats.

He said the party is aiming for a additional Assembly seat in the Foyle constituency, which he represents at Westminster, and hoping to take a seat in Strangford, South Antrim, Fermanagh South Tyrone and West Belfast.

While the DUP has sounded warnings that if Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party they will push for a border poll, Mr Eastwood said that is irrelevant.

“I don’t think it really makes any difference around a border poll,” he said.

“The reality is I want to see constitutional change but I want to do it properly, and that takes a lot of hard work, but we’re not there yet, we’re not going to win a border poll tomorrow so it really is quite irrelevant as to who comes first in an election that is about electing a government of probably five parties.

“Those of us who want to see constitutional change have to do the long, hard work of convincing our neighbours that we can create a country together, that we build together as a community.

“Right now this election is not about border polls or anything else, it’s about the cost-of-living crisis and getting money back into people’s pockets.”