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Dolores Kelly on verge of entering race for SDLP deputy’s job

By Connla Young

The SDLP leadership race is set to pick up pace this week after it emerged one of the party's most senior female figures is preparing to fight for the deputy leader’s position.

It is understood Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly (below) is likely to make a play for the post which is set to become vacant after Patsy McGlone's decision to challenge Margaret Ritchie for the party leader’s position.

Although Ms Kelly was staying silent last night, it is understood her local constituency branch will meet on Wednesday to rubber-stamp her nomination for the powerful party post.

Mrs Kelly's pending entry into the race will be viewed by some observers as a boost to McGlone's bid to become the party's new leader.

The Mid-Ulster MLA decided to challenge Ms Ritchie for the top job after his party's poor performance in May's Assembly elections when the SDLP returned just 14 candidates to the 108-seat Assembly.

Seen by many as natural allies, Ms Kelly and Mr McGlone could form a “dream team” ticket as the party struggles to claw back some of the electoral ground lost to Sinn Fein in recent years.

Ms Ritchie, who replaced Mark Durkan as party leader in 2010, says she will contest any challenge for the party leadership.

Ms Kelly will enter the contest with strong credentials.

As the first nationalist mayor of Craigavon, she began her council career in 1993.

If given the green light to put her name forward the Co Armagh woman will follow in the footsteps of her mentor Brid Rodgers, who served as the SDLP’s deputy leader between 2001 and 2004.

Ms Kelly was also selected by her party to replace Ms Rodgers in Upper Bann when she stood down from the Assembly in 2003.

It is understood South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell, who Margaret Ritchie defeated in the leadership vote last year, is still considering whether to throw his hat in the ring again.

Meanwhile SDLP ‘young gun’ Colum Eastwood, who has been urged to put his name forward for the deputy leader post, is also considering his next move.

The SDLP will decide the leadership battle during its annual conference in Belfast in early November.

Story so far

Current SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is being challenged by deputy leader, Mid-Ulster MLA Pasty McGlone. Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly, who may throw her hat into the ring as a contender for the deputy’s position, would be perceived as an ally of Mr McGlone. South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell has indicated it is “likely” that he will join the battle.

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