Belfast Telegraph

I give Eastwood six months as leader: ex-SDLP councillor

By Claire McNeilly

A former SDLP councillor has predicted that party leader Colum Eastwood will be gone in six months.

Declan Boyle's claim comes on the first anniversary of his suspension from the party for not supporting a motion calling for an end to the harassment of women by anti-abortion activists outside sexual health clinics.

Mr Boyle said he was furious he was suspended from the party after voting on his conscience, yet now the SDLP wants to introduce a conscience clause, adding that he believes a decision was made to get rid of him and two colleagues at that time.

The SDLP last night rejected his assertions.

"It has now been a year since three Belfast City councillors got suspended indefinitely by the SDLP for abstaining from a vote on an abortion issue," Mr Boyle said.

"The meeting to suspend us was attended by party leader Colum Eastwood and chief whip Colin McGrath.

"It seems clear now that this move was to clear the decks of those who support a pro-life stance within the SDLP and stand up for those who cannot speak up for themselves for the very basic right to life."

Mr Boyle and two fellow councillors - the leader of the SDLP council group Pat Convery, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast, and the deputy leader of the group Kate Mullan - were suspended last April.

At the time the trio were disappointed that they hadn't been called to a meeting to argue their case, but instead had been informed of their suspension by Mr McGrath in a phone call.

Mr Boyle, now an independent councillor, claimed that party policy wasn't adhered to regarding his suspension and added: "We were treated appallingly.

"I'm angry about the process - they didn't adhere to the party policy.

"When we met him in August, Colum apologised privately but couldn't do it publicly.

"He told us he'd meet us but didn't; called meetings off at the last minute."

Mr Boyle revealed that he had recently received an email saying there was no possibility of a reconciliation with the party because he abstained from the vote.

"Now it seems Colum's conscience clause is going to save the SDLP," he said.

"However, when the Belfast Three applied this a year ago we were suspended indefinitely, copper-fastened last week with an email from the chief whip telling us there is no possibility of reconciliation.

Mr Boyle was also highly critical of Mr Eastwood's leadership.

"Three MPs gone, close to 10 councillors gone - and many more to come - and headquarters sold," he said.

"In six months Colum will be gone. The CV says it all."

The SDLP last night hit back at Mr Boyle's allegations.

"Mr Boyle resigned from the SDLP on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph without informing the party and after failing to engage in the party process," said a spokeswoman.

"The SDLP regrets that Mr Boyle decided to walk away from the party and that he continues to use the media to attack the SDLP.

"The SDLP is a pro-life party but Mr Boyle voted against a motion that protected women from harassment. The SDLP does not support or abstain on matters pertaining to the harassment of women.

"The SDLP completely rejects Mr Boyle's account as it has no basis in fact and we are satisfied that the full party process was followed by the management committee."

She added: "The SDLP leader has the full support of his MLA team and looks forward to leading the SDLP through an exciting party conference this weekend."

Belfast Telegraph

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