‘We don’t deny British identity of Ulster folk’

Press Eye - SDLP Conference 2016 - St Columb's Hall, Derry 12th March 2016.
Photograph by Declan Roughan 

SDLP Conference, St Columb's Hall, Derry 12th March 2016. SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood John Hume at the conclusion of the conference
Press Eye - SDLP Conference 2016 - St Columb's Hall, Derry 12th March 2016. Photograph by Declan Roughan SDLP Conference, St Columb's Hall, Derry 12th March 2016. SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood John Hume at the conclusion of the conference

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood appealed to unionists in his conference speech at the weekend - vowing his party will never seek to disrespect their British identity.

Mr Eastwood quoted celebrated Ulster regionalist John Hewitt before declaring to delegates in St Columb’s Hall, that his party saluted unionism’s attachment to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

He also said that marking 1916 should be about reconciling with the “Unionist people of this island”.

“It was the great Ulster poet, John Hewitt, who wrote: ‘This is my country; my grandfather came here, And raised his walls and fenced the tangled waste, And gave his years and strength into the earth,’” he quoted.

“Hewitt was a great believer in regional identity in Ireland and described his identity as Ulster, Irish, British and European. My grandfather fenced that same tangled waste, just outside of Cookstown in the very heart of Ulster.

“We all belong to Ulster and it belongs to us. We all belong to this island and it belongs to us. The SDLP has never and will never deny or dilute the complex mix of identities which contribute to the richness of Ireland.

“But the proper protection and respect of an identity does not result in politics standing still.

“Everyone and anyone can see that this is a time of shifting sands. Many a momentum is changing politics and changing the boundaries of power.

“Such change demands an adult and mature engagement,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said the SDLP will always respect unionist identity.

“We know of the block grant and Unionism’s deep personal attachment to the Queen and to the history of two world wars in which all of our grandfathers died. And to all those things this party respectfully bows its head,” he said.

He asked unionists to engage with nationalists to help shape the future of an ever-changing North Atlantic.

“I want to begin a credible conversation with unionism to describe the Ireland that would include the things that are core to their British identity.

“I invite them to join us in drawing a picture of a New Ireland in which the Ulster identity would be as central and as comfortable as the other three provincial identities. As an Ulsterman, I’d be comfortable with nothing less.”