The SDLP's 2019 priorities
this election is about Brexit – and for those of us in the SDLP, and it’s about seizing the opportunity to stop Brexit for all citizens here. For some three years now, Northern Ireland has been at the centre of the Brexit debate yet, a source of massive frustration to people across Northern Ireland that our voice has been silenced throughout this process.
There is very little point in being at the centre of a conversation if you can’t speak up for yourself. Worse still is when your position is wilfully misrepresented. During the majority of the Brexit negotiations the DUP has distorted the will of the majority of voters in Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the European Union.
Despite the pressures of enormous economic realities, Europe hasn’t moved an inch on its commitment to the island of Ireland and especially in its commitment to the peace project which it has invested in for so long. It’s founding value of sticking by and standing up for small nations and regions has been absolute. Across Ireland there is a deep knowledge and appreciation for this truth and the Brexit negotiations have served to further illuminate it. Brexit has been the test that has served to show Europe at its best. It has served to show everything that Northern Ireland continues to benefit from and everything that Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and the DUP, are not wired to understand.
At its heart, the Good Friday Agreement is a microcosm of what the EU set out to achieve across our continent. It encouraged the idea that consent and consensus is favourable to a rigid majoritarianism that co-operation empowers us more than isolation and that bridges work so much better than borders. Its central lesson to these islands and this continent was that many flags and many identities can come together in one common cause. Even in the wake of a broken and bloodied history, there always remains the choice of a future where difference doesn't have to mean division. It is no co-incidence that John Hume, the chief architect of the peace process, used the EU as the inspiration upon which he built his life’s work. When our history was suffocated by narrow ideals the example of the EU encouraged us to believe that there is always a path out of conflict, that pointless violence can give way to a permanent peace. Then and now, the European Union is a constant and positive reminder that there is always more that unites us than can possibly divide us.
So just as hundreds of Northern Ireland’s roads and community buildings are furnished with a European plaque, the most important EU plaque is intrinsically woven into every layer of our peace process. It is crucial to map out and articulate the scale of what the EU means and represents on the island of Ireland to realise just how much is at stake. The DUP and the Brexiteers are not alone threatening to take Northern Ireland out of the European Union - they are threatening to take away apart of who we are.
The evidence that people in Northern Ireland recognise the importance of our place in Europe is distilled in how we voted in 2016. Despite all the traditional divides in our community, we voted to remain. Some of those people were nationalists, some unionists and some who would identify as neither. All of those people united to demand that we should stay in the European Union. Three years later, none of those votes have been paid the slightest level of respect in London. This European election in Northern Ireland is our opportunity to bring them back down to a long overdue reality. This is our people’s vote.
We’re tired of being talked about instead of speaking up for ourselves. Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit and we won’t be trapped into its future. We voted for the European Union and we’re determined to stay. If you want your voice heard, if you want to remain and stop Brexit, then please come out and vote Eastwood number 1 on the 23rd May.