Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood almost quit as SDLP chief following dire election

By Staff Reporter

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has admitted he considered resigning after the party lost all three of its Westminster MPs in the general election earlier this month.

The three defeated MPs - Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell - were former leaders of the party, with many decades of service between them.

The loss of Mr Durkan in Mr Eastwood's own constituency of Foyle, traditionally an SDLP stronghold, was a particular blow for the party.

Mr Eastwood said only messages of support from people both inside and outside his party brought him out of the dark moment and spurred him to continue as leader.

The disastrous election for the SDLP came just months after former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt announced he was stepping down midway through the count following the March Assembly election in which six of his party's MLAs, including deputy leader Danny Kennedy, failed to get re-elected.

Mr Nesbitt said: "It would be the height of hypocrisy if I did not take full responsibility for the results of the Ulster Unionists. The buck stops here."

Mr Eastwood (34) said last night that the loss of all of his party's MPs made him consider his future.

"I don't think you can have an election like that and not think about those things," he told the BBC's Inside Politics programme.

"But then, you have to come to a decision on what's best for the future and my view is that I have a role to play and the SDLP also has a role to play.

"I obviously considered if that was the right thing for the party and the country.

"I came to the conclusion after many people contacted me both inside and outside the party to say 'keep going'."

Party veterans Mr Durkan and Ms Ritchie lost their seats to Sinn Fein candidates, while Mr McDonnell lost his seat to the DUP.

Mr Eastwood, who served as mayor of Derry in 2010, also criticised three of his party's Belfast City councillors, who this week quit the party.

Declan Boyle, former Lord Mayor Pat Convery and Kate Mullan had broken with the party's position in a vote on a motion condemning the harassment of women attending sexual health clinics.

The trio were suspended by the SDLP earlier this year and resigned this week.

Mr Eastwood said that the three councillors had "embarrassed themselves". "I regret the fact that they fell into the trap laid for them by our political opponents and ended up in a situation where they were embarrassed and the party was embarrassed," he said.

"People need to understand - if you are part of a political party, we have to act as one and we have to show unity and discipline.

"That's the kind of party I want to lead."

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