Newry SDLP reeling after McAteer’s shock resignation

April 6, 2015

The Newry branch of the SDLP were left reeling at the weekend after Newry City councillor, Kevin McAteer declared his immediate resignation from the party and his intention to stand as an Independent councillor.

The 28 year old Derrybeg native, who was elected back in May 2014 but only officially started his role on the new Newry, Mourne and Down Council recently, insisted the move will be welcomed by the public.

Speaking to The Examiner about his decision to resign, Councillor McAteer said he had grown increasingly frustrated with party politics.

“It seems that the SDLP and all parties are more concerned with political point scoring rather than dealing with the issues,” he said.

McAteer, who has been a member of the Newry SDLP branch for over 5 years, cited the huge rally in Newry last weekend to save Stroke Services at Daisy Hill Hospital as further evidence of the “obsession of political parties to hijack issues for their own agendas.”

“For the SDLP and other political parties, the recent Daisy Hill rally was more about getting their own posters and banners littered along the route of the march,” he told The Examiner.

“I witnessed both political parties [SDLP and Sinn Fein] disgustingly rush to try and beat each other to lead the demonstration. I was embarrassed to be representing the SDLP.”

He added that at a public meeting prior to the rally all parties agreed to make the rally non–political. “Both parties have essentially lied to the people and used the rally for their own political gain. It was a shameful attempt at electioneering and I will have no part in it.”

“I mentioned that the signs [for the Daisy Hill Hospital rally] would be a bad idea and whilst I defended the SDLP at the rally saying they didn’t have one, I was shocked to see they had a banner,” he added.

Kevin maintains there were other disagreements with Newry SDLP and that he felt “unappreciated” within the party.

“They could listen to their councillors for a start and treat them with a little bit of respect. The hierarchy have a habit of not listening to their councillors and making decisions without getting the opinion of some of their councillors,” he insisted.

He also says he felt ‘censored’ by the SDLP at times and was prevented from speaking with local newspapers to give his opinion on issues he felt passionately about.

“I had to send my comments through to the SDLP Press Office, who edited and amended my opinion to suit their own agenda.

“What is the point in being a Councillor if you can’t have an opinion? Towing the party line is expected at all times, regardless of whether you’re saying or doing something for the benefit of local people.”

Councillor McAteer told The Examiner he feels political parties have “‘lost sight of the fact that politics is not about the party, it’s about people.”

“Recently the parties are happy to use the plight of the working class for their own political gain. Two examples have occurred recently; the Daisy Hill rally and also the public sector strike.

“Stormont is happy to implement public sector cuts that are going to cost jobs but when the strike occurs the politicians flock to the picket line to get a photo to pretend to the people that they care.

“It’s a smoke and mirrors stunt designed to fool the electorate into thinking that the parties actually give a damn but, since there is an election looming, I expect nothing more from them.”

As of last Friday, Mr McAteer is an Independent Councillor and he says he is looking forward to the next four years serving constituents “without the shackles of having to conform to party policy or tow the party line.”

“I will not be dragged into playing petty political games at the expense of the public, the people deserve better than that; they are more important than any political party.

He added, “What I stand for is simple, I am anti-austerity, pro trade union, an advocate of gay rights, worker’s rights and protecting our services in Daisy Hill Hospital.”

Reacting to the unexpected resignation of one of the SDLP’s newest councillors, Hugh McShane, Chair of the party’s Newry branch said the local party was “shocked and disappointed” at McAteer’s decision.

“Kevin is a young politician who has been fully supported and encouraged by the party in Newry. From the outset, SDLP members in Newry have worked tirelessly to facilitate Kevin’s entry to local politics and those within the party locally who loyally canvassed for Kevin are extremely disappointed that he has decided to go independent. He was elected on an SDLP ticket.

“Senior members of the party mentored Kevin and encouraged him every step of the way and they are disappointed that he has made this decision. The SDLP in Newry is like an extended family and the emphasis has always been on the personal welfare of all our members, in particular candidates who are seeking election for the first time.

“For us, being a party member is not just about political debate and activism it is about looking after people.”

Mr McShane added that “at no point” had Kevin shared any concerns he had about the local party and said that his decision had deprived “those who took the trouble to come out in May and cast their votes for an SDLP candidate to represent them in Newry City  of an authentic SDLP voice in the new council.”

Looking to the forthcoming Westminster Election, Mr McShane said: “The SDLP in Newry is in a very healthy position. Our branch numbers continue to increase with new young members joining the party.

“We are completely energised and focused on getting Justin McNulty elected as MP for Newry and Armagh to give our people a voice that it hasn’t had for a decade.

“The SDLP will continue through our strong representation on the new council to work hard for the people of Newry, Mourne and Down.”

SDLP Group Leader Colin McGrath said Mr McAteer’s decision was “most unfair to those that voted for him less than a year ago” and reiterated that he had “stood on a political party ticket to get elected.”

“Many of the group have worked closely with Kevin over the past year and they feel let down by his decision which came out of the blue. Just last week he was selected to represent the party on a raft of outside bodies and internal committees – selections that he made himself.

“I am sorry that Kevin feels he cannot be part of our group any more, however we remain a strong and vibrant group on Newry, Mourne and Down Council and will continue to strive to fulfil our policy of working hard for all communities across our new area.

“There is much work to be done in the weeks and months ahead and we will not be distracted from our principal tasks of representing people, delivering economic prosperity and providing top-class council services in Newry, Mourne & Down Council.’