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SDLP Assembly election campaign launch overshadowed as two councillors leave party

By Staff Reporter

Published 06/04/2016

Party leader Colum Eastwood and colleague Fearghal McKinney (right) at the MAC, Belfast, yesterday
Party leader Colum Eastwood and colleague Fearghal McKinney (right) at the MAC, Belfast, yesterday

The launch of the SDLP's Assembly election campaign yesterday was overshadowed by the resignation of two party councillors.

Speaking at the MAC in Belfast, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the May poll as a "change election" and said his party was presenting a radical alternative to nine years of failure from other parties.

But on the other side of Northern Ireland, other changes were afoot, after two SDLP councillors quit and announced they would stand against the party as independent candidates in West Tyrone.

Fermanagh and Omagh councillor Josephine Deehan - an SDLP member of 15 years' standing - cited the lack of female SDLP candidates west of the Bann as a reason for leaving,

And Patsy Kelly, who has served five years as an elected representative, told the BBC: "With the advent of the Assembly, we have seen the arrival of career politicians whose priorities are self advancement and self perpetuation rather than the daily struggles of ordinary people and the hardships they face."

SDLP discontent in West Tyrone has been building since the party nominated 27-year-old former Westminster candidate Daniel McCrossan last October.

He was then co-opted in January to replace Joe Byrne in the Assembly, after the West Tyrone MLA stood down due to illness.

There are indications that other long-standing SDLP supporters of Mr Kelly and Ms Deehan may now resign from the party.

Mr Eastwood is sticking by Mr McCrossan.

"Of course, we've got some problems, but I think that comes from a place where lots of people seem to want to run for the SDLP in this election; I think that's a good thing," he told the BBC.

"I think people are convinced that we are a party of change, that's why Daniel McCrossan is our candidate in West Tyrone."

He also said the SDLP had "female candidates right across the north and they are all very, very good candidates".

At his Belfast campaign launch, Mr Eastwood said: "The mood is clear. Business as usual is not an option, this is shaping up as a change election.

"And in any change election, the public needs a new alternative. The SDLP that I now lead is offering that alternative."

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