Irish Republican News · April 14, 2006
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
SDLP dissidents challenge Durkan

SDLP leader Mark Durkan is set to face a leadership challenge from the former vice-chairman of the party.

Eddie Espie resigned from the top post two weeks ago.

Speaking alongside former SDLP Belfast lord mayor and European election candidate Martin Morgan, the frustrated County Tyrone man said the process to oust the leader had already begun.

Mr Espie said the SDLP membership was not consulted about moves on policing.

Mr Morgan also talked openly about how he was forced out of the party for insisting on the SDLP adopting a tough line on policing and loyalist parades. He claimed the party’s decision to sign up to policing put the lives of members in danger.

The former senior SDLP figures warned the party faces meltdown in future elections, predicting it would lose its South Belfast and South Down Westminster seats and at least eight Assembly seats.

Both claimed that elements within the party, who Mr Morgan described as “castle Catholics”, were opposed to a united Ireland.

They criticised the SDLP’s approach to public relations, explaining how party press officers were treated like “secretaries”, and spoke of their desire to see Fianna Fáil organise in the North.

Commenting on challenging for the leadership of the SDLP, Mr Espie said: “He [Mark Durkan] could be challenged. He could be challenged at some stage.

“There is a process to go through and I believe that process has started.”

Mr Espie said the full details of the leadership challenge would be known within six weeks.

Mark Durkan later rejected talk of a challenge to his leadership of the party as “incoherent and inconsistent”. He said members would ignore what Espie and Morgan had to say.

“Members won’t be distracted by the rants and ramblings of people who aren’t able to sustain or explain their own position in the party,” said Mr Durkan.

“Martin is someone who left the party some time ago and he is not someone people in the party would attach much credibility to.

“Eddie resigned before he was pushed. He resigned a few days before he knew he would be voted out,” added the Foyle MP. “The reaction in the party to his resignation has been one of relief and welcome.”

In a statement released yesterday afternoon the SDLP said Mr Espie could not make a leadership challenge because he is no longer a party member – a claim disputed by Mr Espie.

The statement said: “It is hard to see how Eddie Espie can have any influence on the leadership or anything else since he is no longer a member of the party. His letter of March 29 to the party chairperson referred to “the party I resign from today”.

“In any event, no one who is not a member of the parliamentary party can contest the party leadership. As vice-chair, Eddie should have known that. On the other hand, maybe he didn’t.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News