Belfast Telegraph

Ritchie to step down as SDLP leader

The leader of the nationalist SDLP is to step down, she has confirmed.

Only weeks after Margaret Ritchie declared she would face down a looming challenge to her leadership, the South Down MP has made the dramatic decision to quit.

Her current deputy Patsy McGlone had already announced his intention to contest the leadership at the party's annual conference in November following poor election results.

Ms Ritchie replaced Mark Durkan as leader last year, narrowly defeating South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell. But in a further development she confirmed she will also leave her Stormont seat to concentrate on her Westminster role.

Her decision follows weeks of internal rumours over her intentions. Ms Ritchie came under pressure after the party lost two Assembly seats in May's elections.

The SDLP has already been eclipsed by Sinn Fein over the last decade as the main voice of nationalism. But when news of Mr McGlone's challenge emerged, Ms Ritchie said she would defend her position.

"Anyone in the parliamentary assembly group is free to put their name forward," she said at the time. "But at the end of the day, I am the leader."

The long-standing SDLP representative was criticised for her media performances, while party members also questioned the direction in which she had taken the party during her tenure. Ms Ritchie said she will not be seeking nominations for the post of leader ahead of the party's conference.

"After careful consideration and consultation with my colleagues over the summer months I have decided that I will not be seeking nominations for the position of SDLP leader," she said.

"The role of the party leader is all-consuming and I have decided that the best way I can serve the SDLP in the future is as MP for South Down, continuing to work for and serve those who have always been my first priority, the people of South Down."

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