Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Margaret Ritchie Elected SDLP Party Leader

© Joe ÓNéill 2009

New SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie
Party nominee for Justice Minister, Alban Maginness (Right)
Santosh Chowdhury (Left)

In the first contested election for party leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Margaret Ritchie, Minister for Social Development in the Northern Ireland Assembly, defeated the Deputy leader of the party, MLA, and Member of the Westminster Parliament, Alasdair McDonnell, at the party conference last Sunday.

Previous leaders of the party, Gerry Fitt, John Hume, and Mark Durkan, were elected unopposed. Durkan announced his resignation as party leader last autumn.

The new deputy leader of the party is Mid Ulster MLA, Patsy McGlone.

At a press conference in the Stormont Assembly yesterday, Ritchie hit the ground running with an announcement that she has withdrawn as the party nominee for the position of Justice Minister. Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party have been in discussions with Alliance Party leader David Ford to assume the justice ministry, while the SDLP has insisted that the position should automatically be theirs under the De Hondt system, adopted by the Assembly for selecting ministerial positions.

The new SDLP nominee for the post will be North Belfast MLA, Alban Maginness, a barrister by profession, who in In 1997, made history by becoming the first Nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast.

With the SDLP being eclipsed by Sinn Féin in the last election as the largest nationalist party, the new leader will have her work cut out to reinvigorate the party faithful for the upcoming Westminster elections, and Assembly elections next year. Added to the woes of the SDLP is the organization of Fianna Fáil Forums in the six counties. Three of the six counties, Armagh, Down, and Fermanagh, have established groups, with the three remaining counties expected to follow by mid-summer.

Ritchie has however ruled out any merger with Fianna Fáil. While on the campaign trail for party leader she has stated that she opposed any such moves. Amalgamation she said, would mean Emasculation.

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