Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Rising star joins race to lead SDLP

Margaret Ritchie

One of the SDLP's rising stars has joined the race to take over the party leadership.

Conall McDevitt, 39, confirmed his entry into the contest when nominations closed in Belfast.

He decided to take on deputy leader Patsy McGlone and South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell, who was defeated in the last battle to take over at the top. Assembly Environment Minister Alex Attwood is also standing.

Mr McDevitt said: "There is an undoubted mood for real change throughout the party."

He is a former director of communications at the SDLP and was a special adviser to the agriculture minister in the first power-sharing Executive.

He added: "Over the coming weeks I look forward to outlining my vision for a strong, dynamic and progressive party which can reconnect with the many who are currently disillusioned with politics and one which speaks to the hopes, ambitions and dreams of everyone in this region and our island."

The change at the party's helm comes as it faces the dilemma of how best to end a decade of decline. It has been replaced by Sinn Fein as the voice of nationalism and republicanism in Northern Ireland, while Sinn Fein's increased all-Ireland support has strengthened its nationalist credentials.

Mr McGlone broke cover after the SDLP had a poor Assembly election in May when it lost two seats and fell to a tally of 14 Stormont positions. He hit out at the leadership the party had received under Ms Ritchie, who was already under pressure for what her critics said were poor media performances.

Earlier this month Ms Ritchie announced she would step down as leader and leave her Assembly seat, while holding on to her role as South Down's representative at Westminster.

Mr McGlone said: "We must articulate our aims of rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and helping those who have fallen on hard times. We must give our young people, the next generation, hope for the future. And we must address the inequality that so many people face."

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