NI Conservatives’ spokesman, Johnny Andrews, has congratulated Colum Eastwood on becoming the new SDLP leader and issued a challenge to the MLA to “introduce new ideas, deliver on the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and concentrate on delivering for Northern Ireland”.  

“The SDLP now has a young, fresh-faced leader in Colum Eastwood and I congratulate him on his successful campaign and his commitment to make Northern Ireland work,” Johnny said.  “His challenge will now be to implement some fresh thinking and a different approach to politics in his party.  Unfortunately, the temptation for the SDLP is too often to ‘out-green’ Sinn Fein, whether through its councillors endorsing the naming of a play-park in Newry after a former terrorist or through an intransigent and unreasonable approach to welfare reform.  All political parties here should be doing everything they can do build relationships across Northern Ireland and across these islands.”

“The recent BBC / RTE poll showed clearly that, for the foreseeable future, a United Ireland is a priority for only a tiny number of people in Northern Ireland, whatever their background or religion.  Mr Eastwood emphasised the constitutional question in his leadership campaign, but indicated that his party shouldn’t ‘obsess about a United Ireland’.  I would urge him to listen to the public now that he is SDLP leader and stress the issues which genuinely matter to people.  That means putting jobs, health and education at the forefront and recommitting SDLP to the principles of Good Friday Agreement in terms of bringing communities together. It also means no more attempts to outflank Sinn Fein by refusing to reform welfare and depriving people in Northern Ireland of vital services as a result.”