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Ritchie can follow in Durkan's giant footsteps

The SDLP annual party conference in Newcastle marked a new dawn in Irish politics as the party elected its first female leader, Margaret Ritchie.

Mark Durkan, the former party leader, has been a giant in Irish politics - most notably for his vision on a shared future for all communities, his achievement on the Good Friday Agreement and his personal commitment to delivering justice to those who needed a political leader unafraid of asking the tough questions.

Mark Durkan has made a real difference to the wellbeing of all citizens through his work in politics and he deserves his rightful place as a statesman of the highest integrity.

Durkan has now passed the mantle over to a lady who will also not be afraid either to ask tough questions or upset the political establishment; to hold the Executive being run by the DUP and Sinn Fein to account; or to deliver on a shared future strategy for all communities.

The SDLP is the only political party totally committed to a shared future, equality and Irish unity that is respectful to all communities.

John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady and Mark Durkan have been the political pillars that held their ground during the days of sectarianism and division, murder and bombing while other political leaders were incapable of doing the same.

The SDLP now have a new leader who will also be a political pillar and who will deliver to all communities.

The SDLP can therefore be rightly proud of its enormous contribution to delivering peace and equality - and its role in bringing the republican movement from their road of violence to democratic politics and peace.

Margaret Ritchie will be a true leader of courage and a champion of change.

PATRICK CLARKE

Dundrum, Co Down

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