Race for SDLP leadership begins as Ritchie stands down

September 13, 2011

By Brónagh Murphy

Following SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie’s announcement on Thursday that she intends to step down as leader of the party in November, the race has begun in earnest to fill the role with members having less than a week to declare their interest in the position.

An internal party meeting, organised by the party’s Slieve Gullion branch, was held in the Canal Court Hotel in Newry at the weekend.   Among those invited were key members of the party including MPs, MLAs, councillors and activists from interlocking areas such as Newry and Armagh, South Down and Upper Bann.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss the party’s future amid uncertainty over the leadership however it’s believed this event had been planned before Ms Ritchie had signalled her intention to quit.

The pressures of fulfilling the roles of an MP, an MLA and leader of the SDLP are what led to Margaret Ritchie’s decision to stand down, she said.

“I have been immensely proud to be leader of the SDLP and will continue as leader in order to assist the party in a smooth transition to the new leadership,” she said.

“I will also be stepping down from the assembly and will start the selection process after the party conference.”

Ms Ritchie said being leader of the SDLP and the MP for South Down were both all-consuming jobs.

“My first love in politics is delivering for the great people of South Down.  I would also assure those from South Down and throughout the north who have given me great support and encouragement that I will continue to serve the SDLP and work towards the renewal of the party and the completion of the work I have set in motion,” she said.

Newry and Armagh MLA, Dominic Bradley, paid tribute to Ms Ritchie’s achievements as party leader and said she will remain “a tireless advocate” for the people of South Down for many years to come.

“Margaret has been, and will continue to be, an outstanding public representative for the people of South Down and I know she will play a huge part in Irish politics for many years to come.

“During her time as Leader and as Social Development Minister, Margaret proved to be a woman of great grit and determination and still has a huge contribution to make to the SDLP and Irish politics as the Member of Parliament for South Down.”

Deputy leader Patsy McGlone has already announced his intention to seek election as leader at the party conference in November, while MLA for Upper Bann Dolores Kelly has been nominated for the post of deputy leader.

South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell, who Ms Ritchie narrowly defeated for the leadership in January 2009, is also widely tipped to enter the race.

Nominations for the posts of leader and deputy leader will close this Friday September 16th.