SDLP leader hopes attending Partition centenary will "help to break down the barriers of distrust"

SDLP leader hopes attending Partition centenary will "help to break down the barriers of distrust"

The Amagh service is to mark the 100-year centenary of Partition when Northern Ireland was created and cut Derry off from the rest of Ireland

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood has confirmed the SDLP will accept an invitation to a service in Armagh marking 100 hundred years of Ireland being partitioned.

The SDLP leader insisted that Irish nationalists would never persuade other to consider our vision for the future if they were unwilling to hear their experience of our past.

Mr Eastwood's decision is likely to cause controversy amongst a section of the nationalist community given the strength of feeling expressed in support by many of the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins opting out from attending the Armagh service.

The move could put the SDLP in Derry in an awkward position given in October of last year, the party's councillors backed a Sinn Féin motion that was passed in a Derry City & Strabane District Council vote calling the partition of Ireland in 1921 “a failure”.

They did so again the following month after unionist councillors requested a 'call-in' vote.

Mr Eastwood in explaining his decision said: “The partition of Ireland, more than any other event of the last 100 years, has had a profound political, economic and cultural impact on the lives of everyone who shares this island.

“I come from a tradition that views it as a traumatic and divisive constitutional event. But I recognise and cherish that we live in a community with diverse and divergent experiences of that moment.

“Turning your back on people who come from a different tradition, who have a different experience and a different perspective to offer doesn’t change what happened 100 years ago, it only entrenches that division today.

“As an Irish nationalist, I will work every day to convince as many people as possible to consider our vision for the future.

“But how can we ever hope to do that if we refuse to acknowledge their experience of the past? How can we ever reconcile our divided communities if we refuse to meet people where they are and engage with them on their own terms?

“Attending a church service in Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, to mark the centenary of partition does not diminish anyone’s Irish nationalism.

“It will however, I hope, help to break down the barriers of distrust that have endured between our communities.

“The decision we have made wasn’t motivated by the establishment or the churches. This is about stretching ourselves to heal the wounds of partition.

“It is about reaching beyond ourselves and reaching out to people from a different tradition, many of whom are considering a new future for our island for the first time. “My job as a leader of nationalism is to speak to them, to hear their concerns and to convince them that change is possible.

“I understand that this will be a challenging decision for some, and others have come to a different determination. But it wasn’t difficult for me.

“Given the choice between remaining in the trenches of the last 100 years or reaching out to build a new future, I know which side I want to be on.”

On the decision of President Higgins not to attend the event, Mr Eastwood MP added: “Partition and commemoration are deeply political events. I fully understand why it was not possible for President Higgins to attend the event in Armagh.

“As President of Ireland he has different considerations to judge. He has also dedicated himself and his presidency to reconciliation and understanding between our communities.”

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