SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has described this afternoon’s meeting of all five party leaders on the opening day of fresh talks to restore power-sharing as a step in the right direction.
He said: “The meeting of the five party leaders this afternoon was a constructive beginning to the new phase of the talks.
“It’s critical that all parties are at the table if we’re to create the conditions for forming an inclusive power sharing Executive.
“But these talks have to go beyond the mere symbolism of respect. Historic handshakes just don’t cut it anymore. We need to deliver a more accountable, more respectful form of government.”
Mr. Eastwood said the SDLP will be pushing for the reform of the Petition of Concern mechanism at Stormont, which has been used as a veto in the past.
He said the reform of the controversial mechanism could help deliver equal marriage and an Irish Language Act.
“To that end, key outcomes will include robust reform of the Petition of Concern to restore it to its original purpose – a tool to defend minority communities, not a weapon to be used against them. That reform can break the deadlock on other issues like Equal Marriage, the Irish language and others that have been intractable for too long.
“There must also be a new spirit of cooperation between the parties. We have significant challenges ahead, not least of all the threat Brexit poses to this island. Parties must unite to defend the interests of the people we represent.
“One significant way to demonstrate that and to restore confidence in the institutions is to return to the joint nature of the roles of First and deputy First Minister by electing them together, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in the days ahead. But gaps can be closed and a comprehensive resolution can be agreed. All parties must be focussed on delivering a new form of government,” said Mr. Eastwood.