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Colum Eastwood out of contest Foyle MLA quits race to be SDLP deputy leader

Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood has withdrawn his name from the contest for the SDLP deputy leadership.

The former Derry mayor says he’s opting to concentrate his efforts on addressing the recent “disgraceful announcements” about Derry regarding university provision, the rail link and the Programme for Government.

Hailed as one of the party's rising stars, Mr Eastwood first entered the political arena five years ago when he was elected on to Derry City Council and became mayor when he was just 26.

During his term he saw the publication of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday and Derry’s crowning as City of Culture 2013.

While many favoured him to win the deputy leader post, he has stepped down from the election campaign because of his constituency work, which included the expansion of the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.

Mr Eastwood said: “I was extremely honoured and proud to have been asked to stand for election as deputy leader of the party but given the disgraceful announcements about Derry in recent weeks I felt I needed to give my full attention to my constituency work.

“The people of Derry see that there is a devolution deficit and

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they are understandably angry and I share this anger, which is why I did not think I could devote the time necessary to take on the role of deputy.”

Yesterday Mr Eastwood raised the university expansion issue in the Assembly where he said: “The proposal for Magee to have a targeted increase by 2013 with the hope of 6,000 full-time students by 2020 would, in economic terms, have an impact of up to £1bn by 2040 for the regional economy.

“Our plan refers to Magee as a catalyst for citywide renewal, to create up to 2,800 new jobs both direct and indirect by 2020. Magee had to reject 4,675 this year alone, 3,445 were local students.”

Assembly Members voted against the motion by Mr Eastwood and his fellow Foyle MLAs Mark H Durkan and Pat Ramsey. The trio had asked colleagues to call on Learning Minister Stephen Farry to ensure the creation of the extra student places during the current spending review.

After the vote, Mr Eastwood said: “Basically the people of Derry will be asking the question: ‘Is this the old Stormont or the new Stormont? Instead of devolution dividend we are getting a devolution deficit.”

Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly will now be elected as SDLP deputy next month, when a new leader will also be chosen to replace Margaret Ritchie.

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