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McDonnell is defiant as Mallon backs rival Eastwood

By Noel McAdam

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has insisted he will hold on to the position despite backing for challenger Colum Eastwood from a senior party figure.

Foyle MLA Eastwood gained an official endorsement from former deputy leader Seamus Mallon, who several months ago called on Mr McDonnell to stand down.

Mr McDonnell argued, however: "Seamus is a very distinguished member of the party, and is entitled to his opinion.

"But we have some 300-odd other delegates out there with opinions. The majority have pledged their support to me."

With just two weeks until the contest is decided - at its annual conference in Armagh - Mr Mallon said he believed Mr Eastwood could end the "stagnation and negativity" in the party.

"Confidence and benevolence are almost totally absent today from our political structures - a new leader of the SDLP with a new style of leadership can end this stagnation and negativity and return us all to the path of proper peace building," he said

Ex-Deputy First Minister Mallon was among a number of party grandees and senior figures who urged Mr McDonnell to stand down following the party's performance in the Westminster elections in May when its vote share fell by 2.6 %.

They included another former deputy leader Brid Rodgers and Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who led the party for nine years up to 2010 and was also a Deputy First Minister.

Mr Eastwood said he was delighted to be endorsed by a "political giant such as Seamus Mallon".

"The democratic struggle that Seamus and others undertook in the face of violence and intransigence has allowed my generation the opportunity to live in peace and to build a new society," he said.

But South Belfast MP Mr McDonnell reiterated: "People have elected me to do a job and I'm going to do that job."

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