New Year message from the Party Leader Colum Eastwood
“I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the happiest of New Years. I hope the Christmas holidays have been a time of comfort, rest and family.
“Despite the barrage of rain and wind which has swept across us in recent weeks, I also hope that people can face into this New Year with a genuine sense of optimism and confidence.
“This is a particularly special New Year for the island of Ireland.
“The momentous centenaries in the coming months will, very rightly, draw huge attention. Every tradition on this island must work to ensure that 2016 is a vibrant mix of celebration and commemoration.
“History always offers a choice; it can make us rigid or make us open. In this of all years, it is incumbent upon us all to make the right choice. In 2016 we should strive to avoid the narrow absolutism of a single truth.
“Ours is a complex history and we should be sensitive to those complexities. Too often the temptation remains to reach for simple certainties. History rarely provides such certainties. Politicians should avoid promoting triumphalist simplicities.
“I won’t be doing it nor will my party.
“What is of true importance is that, whether commemorating those who marched on the GPO or those who marched on the fields of the Somme, they are all of them deserving of respectful remembrance. All of them.
“Those of us within Irish nationalism will obviously, in particular, remember the idealism and political heritage of Easter 1916. The birth of the modern Irish nation remains an event of deep significance, not just to the pages of Irish history but to its people.
“In essence the Rising and its aftermath were a proclamation of faith that the Irish people have the right and the freedom to govern and shape our own destiny. For me, for Irish nationalism, it is that proclamation and its faith in the authority and sovereignty of the Irish people which stands true to this very day.
“However, an open and honest history demands that there be nothing narrow about the coming year.
“There is another tradition on this island, a valuable tradition, whose perspective on Easter 1916 is very different. Unionism’s voice has every right to be heard in that commemoration and its adjacent conversation. I would urge them to use that voice. At the turn of this New Year it is vital to map out these principles.
“Easter 1916 is not, nor should it ever be, a symbolic weapon. No politician or political party can claim ownership of the Rising, nor can a claim of ownership be made on its lessons or its legacy.
The SDLP and the year ahead
“In the midst of all the remembering though, our primary concern has to be the Ireland we now have. Ireland has had enough of political leaders who long to live in an imagined past.
“Ours is now a very different island. It is to the next 100 years that we must now look.
"In the North, 2016 will see a massively important election to our Assembly in May.
"It is no secret that devolved government here has failed to live up to the hopes of our people. This is true of the Unionist and Nationalist peoples alike. There is no segregation in our disappointment. We are all united by it.
“Sinn Fein and the DUP may well be hyper sensitive to this critique by other parties, but they should at least have the knowledge and humility to understand that this same criticism is merely a reflection of public belief. Boasting about stability is no longer good enough, it is right to expect more.
“Heads of government cannot credibly ask for a ‘Fresh Start’ after 9 years in office. The very idea is ridiculous and wouldn’t be credible anywhere else. It isn’t credible here. What our two First Ministers are really asking for is more of the same.
“They have failed the tests of government. They have failed to make Northern Ireland work.
“In May, the electorate will face a clear choice. The election will be a referendum on Stormont’s current leadership, it will be a referendum on their record in government.
"The voters will choose whether to allow those same heads of government, to allow that same crippling frustration in our politics, to continue into a 10th year and beyond.
"Or they can choose change. They can vote for the real fresh start of a Nationalist party serious about the business of government, not just serious about the symbolism of government.
“That party will be the SDLP. That’s the alternative we will be offering.
“I am conscious that at times my own party has fallen short in measuring up to this standard of trust and confidence. That changes now.
“The SDLP is a party which feels good about itself again, full of new people and new ideas.
“In the coming weeks, I will be unveiling the SDLP team which will attempt to win back the trust of the public. We’ll be unveiling our manifesto and offering it up to public scrutiny. We’ll be outlining what priorities we will pursue. We’ll be showing what we’d do differently.
“That’s what proper politics is about. It is the kind of politics that I’m determined this New Year will bring.”