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Durkan FG move will give nationalists a clear voice, says Ritchie

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Welcomed: Margaret Ritchie

Welcomed: Margaret Ritchie

PA Wire/PA Images

Welcomed: Margaret Ritchie

Margaret Ritchie has spoken for the first time about fellow former SDLP leader Mark Durkan's decision to contest the European elections as a Fine Gael candidate and said she "wishes him well".

The surprise move from Mr Durkan to bid to win a seat in Dublin in the May elections came weeks after the SDLP voted overwhelmingly in favour of a partnership with Fianna Fail.

It can be revealed that a third political party in the south - the Labour Party - sounded out Ms Ritchie last year.

Ms Ritchie would not be drawn on this, but said she wished Mr Durkan well.

"I think Brexit changes everything," she said. "It has changed the political context, hence the SDLP's partnership with Fianna Fail and Mark's made himself quite clear in the interviews that I've listened to, and he told me himself, that it was to give northern nationalists a voice, because we don't have a voice at Westminster, we don't have a voice in the Assembly because it doesn't work and thirdly we won't have a voice in Europe.

"So therefore this gives us that opportunity, albeit if he's elected he will have to serve - and I've no doubt Mark will do that - the interests of all the people of that Dublin constituency."

Ms Ritchie (60) brushed off criticism by Sinn Fein over Mark Durkan's move.

And she denied the party was in any way fractured by the links to two separate parties in the south.

She said: "As a member of the SDLP and a former leader, I don't think there is. I think it is important that we have set up these partnerships to ensure that we achieve on behalf of the people the best possible deal for them and the best possible way of representing their views, because everybody including business and individuals, society at large and communities are going to be challenged by Brexit.

"Because we are in totally in unknown territory and Brexit is a threat to representational democracy."

Belfast Telegraph