Belfast Telegraph

Durkan's Fine Gael move backed by SDLP stalwarts

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan speaking at a press conference on Monday where he was unveiled as running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan speaking at a press conference on Monday where he was unveiled as running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Two SDLP veterans have resoundingly backed Mark Durkan's decision to run as a Fine Gael candidate in Dublin.

Dr Joe Hendron and Brid Rodgers said the former Foyle MP had much to offer people on both sides of the border amidst the instability caused by Brexit.

Mr Durkan's announcement that he will be a Fine Gael candidate in May's European election comes just weeks after the SDLP announced a new partnership with Fianna Fail.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood yesterday admitted it was "awkward and difficult" but said Mr Durkan had "earned the right to make his own decisions" and ruled out expelling him. The former Foyle MP lost his seat to Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion in 2017.

He said that he hopes to give Northern Ireland a voice and that his move had been driven by the UK's decision to leave the EU. He stated that his move had the blessing of Pat Hume, the wife of SDLP co-founder John.

He said that he had suspended his SDLP membership in order to run for Fine Gael.

Former West Belfast MP Dr Hendron said: "I was taken by surprise by Mark's announcement but he has my 100% support. He is one of the finest politicians on the island of Ireland. With Brexit, we our losing our MEPs and having him as a voice in Europe will be a huge benefit."

Dr Hendron (below) continued: "I have been very impressed with how Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are handling Brexit.

"But this isn't a Fianna Fail/Fine Gael issue. Mark is a brilliant politician, and most importantly one of great integrity who will work for the good of all the people.

"It was so sad when he was beaten by a handful of votes in Foyle in 2017. He is a star performer and I hope he will get elected for Fine Gael in Dublin. I have no reservations whatsoever about his move."

Former SDLP deputy leader and ex-Stormont minister Brid Rodgers (bottom) also voiced her support. "At a time of great political instability caused by Brexit, Mark Durkan will be an excellent voice for people both in the north and the south," she said.

"He is an expert strategist and negotiator. He knows European parliamentary procedures inside out and will be following in the tradition of John Hume in Brussels."

Mrs Rodgers added: "As a chief negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement, he is very well placed to ensure that the agreement is protected despite Brexit."

SDLP south Belfast council candidate Seamas De Faoite also welcomed the former Foyle MP's move.

"I joined the SDLP under Mark Durkan's leadership around 10 years ago. He is one of the most inspirational and intelligent leaders on the island of Ireland," he posted on Facebook.

"Derry's loss is undoubtedly Dublin's gain. At a time when others across Europe are rushing to erect borders and barriers, few understand better than Mark does that we need to be uniting people instead of dividing them.

"I hope as a Fine Gael MEP that he continues to passionately make that case.

"Even as an MP from a group of three, in a Parliament of 650, Mark was an incredibly influential voice.

"I've no doubt that as an MEP from a country with 14 seats, in a Parliament of 700 plus, Mark will be even more influential in the green jersey."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood admitted he was surprised when Mr Durkan told him of his decision on Monday but he ruled out taking any disciplinary action against him.

He told Radio Ulster's Evening Extra yesterday: "Mark Durkan is an SDLP man to his core. He is somebody who has represented this party at every level.

"He is somebody (who) helped write the Good Friday Agreement and deliver it. He is a good friend of mine. We will not be expelling him from the SDLP. He is taking up an opportunity that has been offered to him. I might not have done it but Mark is entitled to his own view and entitled to his own decisions."

Mr Eastwood agreed that it was "a bit awkward" but wished Mr Durkan well and insisted he didn't feel betrayed by his move. He said that Mr Durkan had told him he supported the SDLP's new partnership with Fianna Fail.

The SDLP leader said he knew when he embarked on the relationship with Micheal Martin's party that "there would be bumps in the road" but he said that he was in it for the long haul and was "determined to deliver".

Mr Eastwood added that Mr Durkan would be "a voice for the North in the European Parliament which we badly need".

Viewpoint, Page 20

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