SDLP veteran Tim Attwood quits over pact with Fianna Fail after 20 years in politics
A veteran SDLP councillor in west Belfast has announced he won't be contesting the local elections in May.
In a statement, Tim Attwood cited "political and personal reasons" and said he could not support the SDLP's recent decision to partner with Fianna Fail.
After 20 years in politics, Mr Attwood said the political landscape had "changed utterly".
This included the "failure" of the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore Stormont over two years, the "appalling consequences" of Brexit and the evolving debate around Irish unity.
He said he respected, but could not support, the recent Fianna Fail partnership.
"The reality is my politics remains steadfastly rooted in the social democratic and labour tradition embodied by the SDLP," he said.
"I was not an advocate of the SDLP and FF partnership but respect the outcome of the vote and the will of the SDLP members.
"I have decided that I cannot stand electorally for the party but will remain a member of the SDLP."
His announcement follows a decision by the SDLP MLA Claire Hanna to step down as Brexit spokesperson in objection to the Fianna Fail link.
Mr Attwood, a brother of the former Stormont Minister Alex, said his political life had been defined by the courage of the Civil Rights movement and the SDLP founders who "successfully demonstrated that peaceful and non-violent politics" could change politics.
He added he felt honoured to have worked with many of his political heroes including John Hume, Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers.
"They are examples of real heroism in our time," he said.
"When it was not easy or fashionable to preach the message of politics and peaceful constitutional consensual politics the SDLP never wavered.
"Over long barren years when there was little hope, or little to hope for, the SDLP kept faith with its democratic message, preaching non-violence and promoting a more socially just society."
In west Belfast, he thanked several families for their devotion to SDLP activism.
Two sisters from the Falls Road, Gerry Cosgrove and Margaret Walsh (a former SDLP general secretary and councillor respectively), he said "represent everything positive about the SDLP".
"Two working-class women who gave their lives for the SDLP and for peace and justice. Despite two attempts by loyalists to kill Margaret in 1993, she never gave up and gave in," he said.
"They are my inspiration in politics. Like so many other SDLP members if you cut them their blood runs SDLP red," he said.
Looking to the future, he said "bold, tolerant and determined" leadership from the SDLP was more important than ever.
"The real debate is about articulating a vision for a new north and new agreed Ireland," he said.
"I want to see a new north based on genuine partnership, which respects difference regardless of politics, religion or culture.
"I want to see a peaceful and stable Ireland, which respects the human rights of everyone. I want a new north and new Ireland based on social justice, which wages war on poverty, inequality, racism, and homelessness, which reaches out to the marginalised and dispossessed."
Concluding with a quote from his hero John Hume, he said he wanted to build an Ireland where "we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow".