Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin 'turning its back on unionist outreach'

Sinn Féin party activists mocked Colum Eastwood's decision on social media
Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood spoke at the Ulster Unionist conference in Belfast last weekend

Sinn Féin has been accused of turning its back on unionist outreach after its response to the SDLP leader's appearance at the Ulster Unionist conference.

Party activists mocked Colum Eastwood's decision on social media.

Gerry Adams' chief spokesperson Richard McAuley tweeted a picture of Mr Eastwood on the platform at the conference.

He wrote: "Everything u ever needed to know about the SDLP in one image."

'Open nationalism'

Mr Eastwood told BBC's The View programme: "If we're about convincing people that a united Ireland's a good idea, that's the kind of nationalism I'm involved in.

"It's an open nationalism. It's not a narrow nationalism. It's not one that thinks speaking to unionism is a bad thing.

Image caption Sinn Féin party activists mocked Colum Eastwood's decision on social media

"I really don't understand where Sinn Féin are coming from in all this, but it really puts to bed this notion that there's any kind of unionist engagement coming from Sinn Féin."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Sinn Féin have a unionist outreach officer and now they're outraged we are outreaching to the SDLP. That's just hypocritical."

But, Declan Kearney, who leads Sinn Féin's reconciliation programme, said it was all part of "the cut and thrust of politics".

He said: "I suppose the real question to ask is whether we're now seeing a situation where the SDLP are sleepwalking into getting bossed by the Ulster Unionist Party and whether there's a prospect of them eventually becoming absorbed into Fianna Fáil in the south or the UUP in the north.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption UUP leader Mike Nesbitt welcomes Mr Eastwood to the conference

"What we actually need to see is political unionism stepping up to the plate and beginning to reach out to republicanism and nationalism in a way that republicanism and nationalism has been reaching out to political unionism.

"There's been no reciprocation. That's a source of a great deal of discontent and concern and frustration within the wider republican constituency."

Meanwhile, DUP MLA Lord Morrow told The View his party would not invite a Sinn Féin leader to its party conference.

"The difference in an Ulster Unionist conference and a DUP conference is very clear," he said.

"We have a party conference; we have an array of speakers from the DUP and we don't have to go out and invite others to come in and fill the space to tickle the emotions of our delegates."

The View will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on Thursday night at 22:45 BST.

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