SDLP leadership: Eastwood defeats McDonnell

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood

Foyle Assembly member Colum Eastwood has been elected as the new leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Mr Eastwood defeated incumbent leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell in a leadership election held at the party’s annual conference in Armagh.

The former mayor of Londonderry has promised to inject new energy into a party that has seen its electoral fortunes flag in recent years.

South Belfast MLA Fearghal McKinney ousted SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly in the other main vote at conference.

At 32, Mr Eastwood has become the youngest leader of the SDLP.

In a rousing acceptance speech, he said the SDLP’s new vision of “progressive nationalism” was “badly needed”.

He claimed Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists had mismanaged governance at Stormont and had created public cynicism in politics.

“They talk big about fresh starts and new beginnings - no one is fooled,” he said.

“In truth they are tired out.”

He added: “They have had eight years. They have shown themselves incapable of making the next intellectual leap needed for the delivery of good governance. It is our job to demonstrate that as an alternative we can.

“We must demonstrate that the SDLP is again capable of showing that high politics, at its best, is of real value to people. We must show that politics is again capable of creating a change we all want to see. We have to show ourselves to be good enough to be competent enough to earn that trust.”

Three years ago Mr Eastwood caused controversy when he carried the coffin of a school friend at a dissident republican-style funeral.

In his first speech as leader he launched a strong attack against the “vanity and insanity” of dissidents and stressed the extremists’ fight was not with the British government, it was with the people of Ireland.

“There will only ever be one winner in that battle,” he said.