From John Manley in today’s Irish News;
Just over two weeks out from the crucial leadership vote, the one-time Newry and Armagh MP said he believed the Foyle MLA could unite the SDLP and end the “stagnation and negativity” that he believes has beset the party in recent years.
Mr Eastwood (32) launched his bid to unseat SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell last month.
In the wake of May’s general election a host of party grandees and current representatives called for Dr McDonnell to relinquish the party’s top job.
The SDLP saw its share of the vote fall by 2.6 per cent in the Westminster poll, although it did hold its three seats, including the leader’s own constituency of South Belfast – albeit by a very small margin.
Those calling for Dr McDonnell to step down included Mr Mallon, former SDLP deputy leader Brid Rodgers and Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who led the party for nine years up to 2010.
Speaking on Thursday night ahead of Mr Eastwood’s meeting with SDLP members in south Armagh, Mr Mallon said he believed the Foyle MLA could lead a united party that would build on past achievements and win future elections.
“Unless nationalists and unionists can develop an accommodation and better understanding with each other the possibility of further constitutional change is unlike – this is the job the SDLP now needs to undertake,” the former Newry and Armagh MP said.
Mr Mallon said that in his maiden Westminster speech almost 30 years ago, he said that peace was “not simply the absence of war but a state of mind and a disposition for benevolence, confidence and justice”.
“That message is as important today as it was then,” he said.
“Confidence and benevolence are almost totally absent today from our political structures – a new leader of the SDLP with a new style of leadership can end this stagnation and negativity and return us all to the path of proper peace building.”