Irish Republican News · August 3, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
SDLP’s Ritchie facing leadership threat

The deputy leader of the SDLP has said he will stand against current leader Margaret Ritchie for the post at the party’s annual conference in November.

Mid-Ulster Assembly member Patsy McGlone confirmed yesterday he would challenge for the position, stating people were “hungry for change” in the smaller of the two nationalist parties in the North..

It is widely believed South Belfast MP and former deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell will also formally declare his candidacy in the coming weeks. Dr McDonnell was narrowly defeated by Ms Ritchie in the SDLP leadership race in February 2010, losing out by just 35 votes from party delegates.

The SDLP performed poorly in the last Assembly election, in which it lost two seats as Sinn Fein consolidated its position in the political mainstream. The SDLP has lost the support of many younger middle class voters, while it has also failed to secure the votes of wealthy pro-British Catholics, some of which have shifted allegiance to the Alliance party and the Ulster Unionist Party.

Mr McGlone said the party needed “strong leadership, clarity of message and radically improved grassroots organisation”.

“The SDLP has revolutionised Irish politics. The founding principles of the party are as relevant today as they were during the civil rights campaign,” he said.

“The unity of the people of Ireland along with practical social democracy, being there for people through the good and bad times, lie at the heart of every SDLP member and supporter.”

However, Ms Ritchie fought back, insisting she would not give up her position without a battle.

“I will be running for leadership of the SDLP at the annual conference,” she said.

“Anyone in the parliamentary Assembly group is free to put their name forward if they get the nominations. But at the end of the day, I am the leader.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News