The SDLP is to hold an inquest into its disappointing Assembly performance — although Margaret Ritchie’s position as leader is in no immediate danger.
The party had hoped to gain a number of seats, including east Antrim, and even be in position for a second Executive Ministry.
Instead it lost some of its best-known representatives — including Tommy Gallagher in Fermanagh and south Tyrone, Declan O’Loan in north Antrim and Thomas Burns in south Antrim — and saw its vote-share fall by around one per cent.
An MLA since 1998, Mr Gallagher was just 62 votes short and was eliminated at the final count.
Mr Gallagher told the Belfast Telegraph: “I go into every election making no assumptions. It’s the people’s verdict and they have given their verdict today.”
The overall result was a drop from 16 Assembly seats to 14 — remaining the fourth largest party albeit with the third biggest vote.
Senior party figures yesterday talked of the need for ‘renewal’ and better organisation on the ground.
Patsy McGlone, elected on the fifth count in mid-Ulster, said some areas were better organised than others and there was a need to ensure the party’s central message got out.
Conall McDevitt, who got through on the fifth count in south Belfast, said with the gun now largely removed from politics —apart from horrifying incidents like the killing of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr — the party should now be instrumental in removing the issue of the ‘flag’ from politics.
Ms Ritchie said, however: “SDLP party renewal is well under way. We have more young people joining the party than ever before and with no immediate elections on the horizons, as leader I intend to intensify the renewal process.
“Although we are undoubtedly disappointed to have lost two seats, our vote actually fell by less than one per cent.
“While we would have liked to have done better our overall position has not changed significantly — we are still the third largest party in terms of percentage share of the votes.”
On the upside, the party achieved one of its targets — the return of chairman Joe Byrne in west Tyrone and also saw several newcomers win seats — Mark Durkan (nephew of the former party leader of the same name who is Foyle MP) and Colum Eastwood in Foyle and Karen McKevitt in south Down.