Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Ritchie 'delighted to accept peerage' and will give voice to Northern Ireland

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie
Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said she is "delighted" to make history by becoming the first nationalist peer in the House of Lords since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

And in accepting the honour, Ms Ritchie, who served as MP for South Down from 2010 to 2017, will become the first nationalist to sit in the Lords since SDLP party founder Gerry Fitt, who became Baron Fitt of Bell's Hill in 1983.

"I'm delighted with the honour and I'd like to thank everyone who recommended me for the peerage," she told the Belfast Telegraph last night after being named in former Prime Minister Theresa May's resignation honours list.

"This will give me the opportunity to fight for Northern Ireland in Westminster," she said.

"At Westminster we have the DUP, who do not speak for the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and Sinn Fein do not take their seats so I will be happy to reflect the views of nationalists, for I am an Irish nationalist and will stay true to those beliefs.

"I may no longer be a member of the SDLP, but those are the party values I will be bringing to the Lords."

Ms Ritchie said she had no second thoughts about accepting the peerage.

"We're living in unprecedented political times and I feel I need to be there to give a voice to people in Northern Ireland," she said.

"Brexit is obviously a defining issue as we stand today, but I've spent the evening drawing up a list of other issues which affect people in Northern Ireland and I would like to see addressed."

No title has yet been chosen by Ms Ritchie. "I was born in Downpatrick, I grew up in Downpatrick and I would like to reflect the area," she said.

She is expecting to be introduced to the House of Lords in October.

Elected as an MLA in 2003, Ms Ritchie served as Minister for Social Development at Stormont from 2007-2010, before succeeding Eddie McGrady as the SDLP's MP in South Down.

She also had a brief stint as party leader from 2010-11 when she became the first woman to lead a major political party in Northern Ireland.

The 61-year-old lost her seat in the House of Commons in 2017, and just a few months later was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now recovering well.

"Health-wise I'm feeling great and ready to take on the role," said Ms Ritchie.

Also honoured by Mrs May is new Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith, who receives a CBE just a day after having to deny he was considering quitting Boris Johnson's cabinet.

Despite propping up Mrs May's government, no one from the DUP has been recognised in her resignation honours list.

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