Eastwood's get well soon message to Sinn Fein's McGuinness
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has wished his main nationalist political rival Martin McGuinness a "full and fast return to good health".
The Foyle MLA contacted the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister as speculation mounted over whether Mr McGuinness might stand down in the new year.
A senior former Sinn Fein colleague has speculated that his term in the Executive Office could be coming to an end.
Other Stormont parties have declined to fuel speculation or publicly talk about a potential successor.
An SDLP spokesman revealed Mr Eastwood had contacted Mr McGuinness to wish him "a full and fast return to good health".
He added: "Our thoughts are with him and his family over Christmas and into the New Year as he recovers."
The Deputy First Minister admitted last week that Mr McGuinness' health made efforts to prevent the current Stormont crisis over the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme from threatening the insitutions "even more problematic at this time".
In a Belfast Telegraph column, former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay wrote: "There have been signs over the past few months that both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would step down in the next couple of years, but that process seems to be gathering speed.
"Over the past two weeks there have been plenty of references to Martin's health, so that may be a signal that changes are coming."
He added "at the end of the day it will be down to Martin McGuinness himself and the party leadership" to decide when the Deputy First Minister stands down, but Mr McKay said it will be a "hugely significant moment". In a BBC interview Mr McGuinness declined to give details of his condition but said he was being treated by a "wonderful group of doctors".
Both the Executive Office and Sinn Fein said his work as Deputy First Minister was unaffected and there was no change since it emerged he was not accompanying First Minister Arlene Foster on a trade mission to China on medical advice.
"Martin McGuinness is fulfilling his responsibilities as Deputy First Minister working with his departmental political advisers."