Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Ritchie sets sights on top job

Newly elected leader of the SDLP Margaret Ritchie, with Taoiseach Brian Cowen

New Social Democrat and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Margaret Ritchie has pledged to lead her party to the top job in Northern Ireland politics.

The first woman to take charge of the nationalist party in its 40-year history marked her elevation by setting herself and her colleagues an ambitious target.

After beating South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell in the contest to replace outgoing Mark Durkan, the 51-year-old noted that she has risen from the rank and file to leader in three short years.

"You may ask if there's no end to this woman's ambition?" Stormont's current Social Development Minister told delegates at the party's annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down. "Well there is - I want our party to rise again and I want to become First Minister."

Ms Ritchie won the hard-fought leadership contest by 222 votes to 187.

Her victory was met with a rapturous reception from the conference floor, with the party faithful giving the South Down MLA a prolonged standing ovation.

When a degree of order was restored, the party's sole minister in the power-sharing executive made a bold vow to revive the SDLP's flagging fortunes and make it the largest party in Northern Ireland.

The SDLP has been overtaken by Sinn Fein as the main nationalist party in the region over the last decade and now sits as the fourth biggest party in the Assembly.

"Together we can do this," Ms Ritchie said of a potential comeback. "We can put our party back on top and for the sake of the people of the North we must put our party back on top."

She also paid tribute to the defeated Mr McDonnell and urged the party to get behind the efforts to make sure he retained his parliamentary seat. "I know Alasdair is going to retain South Belfast and every one of us must put our shoulder to the wheel to ensure that happens," she added.

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