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SDLP leadership race is on as Margaret Ritchie quits

Alasdair McDonnell has given his strongest indiction yet that he will run for leadership of the SDLP.

His comments last night came just hours after Margaret Ritchie announced her decision to quit as leader of the beleaguered party.

SDLP deputy leader, Patsy McGlone, had already announced his intention to contest the leadership at the party's annual conference in November.

During the GAA Ulster All-Star Awards in Armagh last night, which all three attended, Dr McDonnell appeared to throw his hat in the ring.

"If I feel that the party wants my agenda and the party is in sync with the radical ideas that I have to change the party and move it into the 21st century - and put it back to winning elections - then I will decide to go (for it) and that decision will be in some days time," he said.

In a further development, Ms Ritchie 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 that 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.

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