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13 February 2017

Colum Eastwood must change strategy and now adopt a more grown-up attitude to world and local politics

Rather than out-greening Sinn Fein, the SDLP needs to demonstrate its own competence, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP
Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP

I’ve been wondering what gets into the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood. At a time when his party’s only hope is to seem sane, sensible and less sectarian than Sinn Fein, and with the potential to govern competently along with the UUP, he’s been having outbursts of grandiosity and greenery.

His stance on the election of President Trump was utterly juvenile.

It was, he explained, “a victory of fanatical and fantasy absolutism”, and because “I choose to stand by a very different set of values than those displayed by this man,” he therefore would not attend “a Trump White House”.

If he thinks Trump is a fanatical absolutist, it suggests Mr Eastwood doesn’t know much about the rest of the world.

It gives me no pleasure to say that, by comparison, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams seemed like grown-ups in the cautious civility of their reactions.

And so Northern Ireland’s only nationalist voice at the St Patrick’s Day party is likely to be Gerry Adams.

Yet Adams and his henchpeople are ramping up Anglophobia in the Republic and nationalist victimhood in Northern Ireland — his article this week in Andersonstown News was expanding on his lies about many murders having been committed by “unionist paramilitaries in collusion with British state forces”.

Poor Mr Eastwood seems to have succumbed to the disease that has recently become popularly known as “virtue-signalling” — expressing opinions designed to make you seem morally superior.

It used to irritate me when I first encountered it in the 1960s and 1970s and it irritates me now.

The great satirist Tom Lehrer then mocked the typical folk singer who loudly addressed the like-minded “about how you love peace and goodness and tolerance and you hate anyone who thinks otherwise”.

The refrain of his spoof song was: “We are the folk song army/Every one of us cares/We all hate poverty, war, and injustice/Unlike the rest of you squares.”

(In eejitiness, the Eastwood contribution was exceeded only by that of Tim Farron, leader of the tiny Lib Dem party, who explained he would boycott any state dinner for Trump, because: “I am the one thing Donald Trump hates: liberal, democrat and fighting for a Great Britain that is open, tolerant and united.”)

Mr Eastwood then demonstrated that he is another SDLP leader who has never grasped the simple truth that he can never, and should never try to, out-green the Shinners.

What possessed him to announce that if post-election an executive cannot be formed, “we cannot allow” direct rule. “The only acceptable position for the nationalist community is joint authority between the Irish and British governments.”

Look, Mr Eastwood, no one, but no one, in power in Dublin or London is going to take such a proposition seriously.

It’s straight from La La Land.

The British government would have to introduce a raft of new legislation, and the Irish would have to change the Constitution and take responsibility for a troublesome part of the island they like to ignore as much as possible.

In any case, as a spokesman for the British government has pointed out, “any form of joint authority would be incompatible with the consent principle” enshrined in the Good Friday agreement.

Can Mr Eastwood even think that a time like this, with politicians and officials in London and Dublin obsessed with Brexit, the British and Irish government want to defy the will of the majority of Northern Irish people?

The numbers show how ridiculous this is.

A poll last week showed just 17% in favour of Joint Authority; the proposition didn’t even win a majority from Sinn Fein voters despite their constant diet of hatred and self-pity.

These are parlous times for Ireland.

We are at a time when patriotic inhabitants of the island of Ireland from all backgrounds need to calm ethnic tensions and make common cause to make Brexit work

As the impressive Dublin MEP, Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes, says, the objective is to avoid a painful divorce from the EU and resolve the customs issue in a way that causes minimum disadvantage to both sides.

That requires that political leaders look for solutions rather than creating more problems.

Colum Eastwood needs to lay off the Kool-Aid before it’s too late.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards