Northern Ireland

SDLP 'up for challenge of changing' after general election defeat

Colum Eastwood Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (left) said there are no questions the party is not prepared to face

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the party is up for "the challenge of changing" after losing all their MPs in Thursday's general election.

The party were wiped out after former party leaders Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell were toppled in Foyle, South Down and Belfast South.

Mr Eastwood said the party would have to "accept" the verdict of voters.

"We will not rush into any kneejerk reactions," he vowed.

"But nor will we be slow in doing what is required."

The election result has been described as the end of an era for the SDLP, particularly in Foyle where the party has held the constituency seat since it began in 1983.

Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Former party leader Mark Durkan was one of the MPs who lost their seats

The constituency is largely made up of Londonderry, a city long considered an SDLP stronghold and the birthplace of Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood and party founder John Hume.

In his concession speech on Friday morning, Mr Durkan apologised to John Hume for the loss of the seat.

On Saturday, SDLP's Claire Hanna told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme that the party would have to do some "very, very serious thinking" about its future.

"There's no point in pretending that it was just the mechanics (of an election) and it was just the lack of money and it was just the fact the other parties were in government and being perceived to deliver goodies."

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Eastwood said the party would "listen hard to understand what has been said to us and how we can best respond".

"As a party there are no questions we are not prepared to face.

"We will not shy away from attempting to provide answers to those questions - even if those answers include the unprecedented or the uncomfortable."

'Deserves better strategy'

Mr Eastwood said that the result was an "undoubtedly difficult" for the party but also "damaging for our wider politics".

"For the first time in generations, we have now been left with no Irish nationalist voice in Westminster."

He added: "I want to make clear it will not be a conversation centred solely on the future of the SDLP - it will be a conversation centred on the future of the country.

"That is our only focus because it is the ultimate point of politics - a point too often lost."

Mr Eastwood pledged he would not abandon the people who continue to vote for the party.

"Northern nationalism deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no assembly and has now placed us at the mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories," he said.

"There is no future if the north continues to be locked into a political arm wrestle which no one can win."

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