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Colum Eastwood tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: 'An unyielding source of strength'

Queen Elizabeth at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, May 2011. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

3 min read

The warm tributes that have been paid to Queen Elizabeth following her passing tell their own story about the great respect and deep affection that so many, from such diverse and different backgrounds, had for her.

It is an affection and a respect that transcends mere political difference and speaks to her position as a leader and an example of public service.

She was one of the most consequential civic figures of the last century. As political leaders came and went, as public opinion ebbed and flowed, she remained a constant – an unyielding and limitless source of strength and comfort for her people in times of national pride and sorrow.  

The scale of her reign, lasting more than 70 years, spanned from the embers of conflict following the second world war to the peace process between our islands and our people. During that time she forged a legacy that will stand the test of time, and I hope will lay the foundation for enduring relations between these islands, in spite of the challenges we now face.

The story of our peoples is fundamentally and inseparably intertwined

As SDLP leader, I had cause to meet with Queen Elizabeth on a number of occasions. It is difficult to think of two people more divorced from one another in background and aspiration. But in all my dealings with her, I can only recount a person of great warmth, character and an enduring passion for the interests and needs of people. That, I think, is the reason for the longevity of her support among the British people.

As a leader of Irish nationalism, I want to place on record my deep appreciation and respect for Elizabeth’s role in forging new bonds of friendship between our islands and between our people. It is easy to forget now, but she was also a victim of the conflict that the people of these islands were subjected to for 40 years. I know that the murder of her cousin Lord Mountbatten in Mullaghmore in August 1979 had a profound effect on her and on her extended family. She experienced the sharp pain of loss but, in common with the people of Ireland, she took risks for peace and played an enormous role in reconciling the traditions that share our islands.  

At no time was that more visible than during her 2011 visit to Ireland. My great hero John Hume in his Nobel laureate address once said: ‘When we begin to work together in our very substantial common interests, the real healing process will begin and we will erode the distrust and prejudices of our past and our new society will evolve, based on agreement and respect for diversity.’ I believe that Queen Elizabeth’s few words of Irish – 'A Uachtaráin, agus a chairde' – and visit to the Garden of Remembrance and the way she stretched herself to be an example of a good neighbour to Ireland in those moments contributed in a very significant way to healing the wounds of our past. 

I know how difficult it is to lose your heroes, but I hope that those in the North and around the world who hold the Queen dear are all comforted by the lasting legacy that she will leave, having helped shape our common history.

The story of our peoples is fundamentally and inseparably intertwined. It’s reflected in the Irish proverb Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. We all live in each other’s shadow. I hope that we can continue to build on the legacy that Elizabeth and others helped forge. 

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

Colum Eastwood is leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and MP for Foyle.

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