SDLP's Alban Maginness to retire as MLA
Veteran SDLP politician Alban Maginness has announced his retirement, saying he will not contest this year’s Assembly election.
The former Belfast Lord Mayor said he made the decision collectively with his family before Christmas.
"I think it's the appropriate time to go," he told the Nolan Show.
"I've been in politics now 30 years, I was first elected to Belfast City Council in 1985, the year of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I've been in the Assembly since it first sat in 1998.
"I've been proud to be in the Assembly, it's one of the great outworkings of the Good Friday Agreement. Despite all its imperfections it has got extraordinary potential if we can develop the politics further and deeper and make it a real instrument for transforming our politics from the sectarian politics that we've got at the moment into something better than that, the politics of reconciliation."
Mr Maginness denied the timing of his retirement had anything to do with the new party leader, as stand-in presenter Enda McClafferty noted the "exodus" that had followed Colum Eastwood's election.
"I have every confidence in Colum Eastwood; he's a personal friend of mine. I believe that he is a dynamic young man who will give great leadership to the SDLP," he said.
"I think it's right and proper to make way for a new SDLP representative in North Belfast. We've got three excellent local councillors in North Belfast and either one of them would be very, very good as an MLA and give the leadership that is necessary.
Rather than co-opt a new MLA, the SDLP will hold a selection convention within a fortnight to determine its new candidate for the seat in the May Assembly election.
Nichola Mallon looks the most likely candidate, but will be up against Noreen McClelland and Pat Convery.
Colum Eastwood paid tribute to the North Belfast MLA.
"Alban Maginness has been a pillar of honesty and decency in local politics as an elected representative for over 30 years," said Mr Eastwood.
"His work as a young barrister, helping to right egregious wrongs that had been committed against people in his community, was the mark of the man throughout his career. His early work to defend civil rights and liberties is something which has stood this society in good stead through some of our darkest times.
"Although he was never driven by the desire for self-publicity, Alban’s place in our history has been secured by his unflinching political opposition to violence and attempts to reconcile all communities in North Belfast. That never-say-die attitude was recognised when he became the first nationalist Mayor of Belfast, an honour and a political breakthrough that could have gone to no better man.
"As the Chair of the SDLP Parliamentary and Assembly Group, Alban’s counsel has been invaluable in our day-to-day business. We’ll continue to value that advice as Alban remains a close friend of the party. I know that he will continue to be a powerful ally to the SDLP and to the people of North Belfast in the time ahead.
"I look forward to working with Alban as he sees out the remainder of this mandate and as we prepare for the generational shift that is taking place not only in North Belfast but across the entire SDLP."