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Rising star McDevitt throws hat into ring for SDLP leadership

By Michael McHugh

One of the SDLP's rising stars last night joined the race to take over the party leadership.

Conall McDevitt (39) confirmed his entry into the contest when nominations closed.

He decided to take on deputy leader Patsy McGlone and South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell, who was defeated in the last battle to take over at the top. Assembly Environment Minister Alex Attwood is also standing.

Mr McDevitt said: “There is an undoubted mood for real change throughout the party.”

Current leader Margaret Ritchie has already said she will not defend her position when the party meets for its annual conference in November.

Mr McDevitt is a former director of communications at the SDLP and was a special adviser to the Agriculture Minister in the first power-sharing Executive.

He added: “Over the coming weeks I look forward to outlining my vision for a strong, dynamic and progressive party which can reconnect with the many who are currently disillusioned with politics, and one which speaks to the hopes, ambitions and dreams of everyone in this region and our island.”

The change at the party's helm comes as it faces the dilemma of how best to end a decade of decline.

It has been replaced by Sinn Fein as the voice of nationalism and republicanism, while Sinn Fein's increased all-Ireland support has strengthened its nationalist credentials.

Mr McGlone broke cover after the SDLP had a poor Assembly election in May when it lost two seats and fell to a tally of 14 Stormont positions.

He hit out at the leadership the party had received under Ms Ritchie, who was already under pressure for what her critics said were poor media performances.

Earlier this month Ms Ritchie announced she would step down as leader and leave her Assembly seat, while holding on to her role as South Down's representative at Westminster.

Mr McDonnell held a news conference in Belfast yesterday to announce his decision and told followers that he has no intention of presiding over the party's further decline and eventual disappearance.

“If we want to survive in any politically meaningful way we are going to have to be twice as radical. We are beyond tinkering, it is time to get to work and introduce the changes necessary to build a successful future for the SDLP,” he said.

“We can't keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Albert Einstein had a word for that — he called it insanity.

“We are going to have to take the SDLP apart and put it back together in a shape and form which is fit for political purpose in the 21st century.”

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