Irish Republican News · February 23, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
SDLP calls for the doctor

South Belfast general practice doctor Alasdair McDonnell has been elected the new deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP in the North.

Dr McDonnell beat off the challenge from two senior party colleagues to replace Brid Rodgers as Mark Durkan's number two.

Fellow Assembly members Alban Maginness and John Dallat had also stood for the post.

Mr McDonnell beat his closest rival, John Dallat, by 19 votes on the second count.

Dr McDonnell said it was now his job to help make the party stronger and more vibrant.

"I went out in a very confrontational sense," he said. "I confronted the members with the problems we had in the party and they responded. I told them if they wanted me to try and tackle the problems, they could elect me."

Dr McDonnell added that he was now withdrawing as a candidate to succeed John Hume as a member of the European parliament.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Mark Durkan, in what was billed as the most difficult speech of his political career, attempted to boost party morale following its Assembly election setback in November.

In a typically emotional speech Mr Durkan said that while the SDLP has been bruised - it is "not broken".

Mr Durkan declared: "Let it never be forgotten that the SDLP in so many ways has changed so many people's lives for the better. History gets written, then re-written. But no-one can write off what the SDLP achieved in our first generation. And a new generation will prove wrong those who write us off now."

The SDLP will be out to "recruit a new generation of members, activists and candidates" and "more young people and more women".

A special conference is expected to be held later this year at which a new party constitution will be discussed, and the party organisation restructured.

An abridged version of Mr Durkan's address is published below.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News