Belfast Telegraph

Former SDLP chief hopes to give NI a voice in Europe after Brexit

Mark Durkan will run as a candidate for leading Irish party Fine Gael for Dublin in the European elections in May

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan arrives at a press conference where he is unveiled as running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan arrives at a press conference where he is unveiled as running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

A former Northern Ireland statesman has said he hopes to give the region a voice in Europe after Brexit by running for election in the Irish Republic.

Mark Durkan, a former deputy first minister, was confirmed on Monday as a Fine Gael election candidate for the European elections in May.

The former SDLP leader will run as a candidate alongside former tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald in the constituency of Dublin for the party which forms the major part of Ireland’s minority government.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch of Mark Durkan and Frances Fitzgerald as Fine Gael’s European Election candidates in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Confirming the move at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar said his decision to invite Mr Durkan to run as a candidate was for the political future of the island.

“We are living in extraordinary times,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We need in the European Parliament people of ability, experience and vision. We need people who can speak and work for the people of the whole island, for Ireland, not just their constituency.

“At this point in time, as Brexit continues to present enormous challenges, we need a place to hear people like Mark Durkan and that place is in the European Parliament.

“Instead of a border poll, I’m asking the people of Dublin to cast a more important vote.

“I don’t want the people of Northern Ireland to have no voice or representation in Europe, I don’t want them ever left behind again.”

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Former SDLP leaders John Hume (left) with Mark Durkan (PA Archive)

Mr Durkan led the SDLP from 2001 to 2010, taking on the mantle from Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.

The 58-year-old briefly served as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister alongside the Ulster Unionist Party’s first minister David Trimble.

Now he said he wants to be part of a “strong team Ireland that stands for decency”.

“Given my own deep involvement in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, I would really welcome the opportunity to contribute in that context in the European Parliament,” he said.

“The Taoiseach is following through on his statement last year that Northern Ireland citizens will not be left behind.

“This is a big ask for the people of Dublin, but as we see a huge disenfranchisement in Northern Ireland, the promises of rights that were framed in the Good Friday Agreement stand in deficit at the minute.

“In the broadest sense, I hope the people of Dublin look at this as an election of the greatest national importance.

“I hope this is a green jersey day with a strong turnout to send a message to Brexiteers that the Irish people as a whole value the EU in a fundamental way.”

Mr Durkan was quizzed on how we would relate to the people of Dublin after spending the majority of his career working in Northern Ireland.

He was asked on a number of occasions whether he could name any proposed routes on the new Dublin metrolink rail line, and whether he could name any road in West Dublin.

Mr Durkan was unable to answer either question and said he would not pretend to the “canny” people of Dublin that he was “a Dub”.

“I’m not going to pretend I’m not a Derry person, and I’m not going to pretend that my family and I won’t continue to live there,” he said.

“I think Dublin is proud as a city, but as a capital city and there are national issues at stake here, and I think there are many people in Dublin who have a strong instinct about the national interest.”

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (left) and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, whose parties voted for a link-up (SDLP/PA)

Mr Durkan’s defeat by Sinn Fein’s Elisha McCallion at the 2017 general election was considered to be one of the surprises of that poll, which saw all three SDLP MPs lose their seats.

His candidacy for Fine Gael comes just weeks after the SDLP announced a link-up with Irish Opposition party Fianna Fail, in an effort to boost its flagging fortunes.

An SDLP spokeswoman paid tribute to Mr Durkan.

“Mark Durkan provided the people of Derry with a first class public service for decades,” she said.

“He is a first class parliamentarian and his regrettable absence on the benches of Westminster has not gone unnoticed by parties and communities alike.

“We wish him well in the upcoming European election. Ireland can only benefit from having Mark Durkan back on a parliament bench.”

Mr Durkan told RTE he will suspend his SDLP membership in order to run as a Fine Gael candidate.

At the press conference in Dublin, he stated: “Obviously, going forward, I will be putting on a Fine Gael vest, but I will not hide my SDLP jersey underneath”.

PA

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