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SDLP's Claire Hanna: Why I didn’t mention my replacement on council was my husband

By Noel McAdam

New SDLP Assembly Member Claire Hanna has denied that she tried to hide the fact that the man replacing her on Belfast City Council is her husband.

Ms Hanna wrote a newsletter that made clear Donal Lyons - a long-time party activist - was married with two young children. But the glossy leaflet circulated in her South Belfast constituency made no reference to the fact that he is married to her, though they are pictured together beside the article.

Ms Hanna, who has replaced party leader Alasdair McDonnell in the Assembly, said yesterday: "Donal gained the position on his own merits, not because he is married to me.

"There was an internal party process which he had to go through with others, so I did not think it was particularly relevant that he is my husband.

"I did not say anything about my star sign or my favourite flavour, either. The leaflet was just about setting out our political stalls for people. I just felt we are entitled to some professional distance.

"We are both elected representatives and our mobile phone numbers are readily available, but we want to have a private life as well."

Ms Hanna, who is the daughter of former SDLP Executive minister and South Belfast MLA Carmel Hanna, was chosen to replace Mr McDonnell in June.

Her father Eamon is a veteran backroom member of the SDLP in the South Belfast constituency.

Mr Lyons is originally from Dublin and was previously employed by the Labour Party and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

He has lived in south Belfast since 2006 and was appointed as a senior policy officer for the SDLP in March.

Last month Ms Hanna led opposition to a loyalist parade along the Ormeau Road honouring UFF men Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, who were killed by the IRA in 1994.

Angry loyalists juxtaposed her condemnation of the display of UDA flags in the parade and the erection of a plaque to the two dead terrorists with her party colleague Colum Eastwood attending the funeral of official IRA and INLA veteran Seamus 'Chang' Coyle in Londonderry in April 2012.

Ms Hanna said: "Personally, I would not have put myself in that situation. He was not acting on behalf of the SDLP, though I believe Colum Eastwood has made clear that he has no truck with paramilitaries or their politics and has worked to persuade others to that position.

"The SDLP have been entirely consistent about violence and those who chose to use it here, and our representatives have strongly advocated this position.

"People want to see paramilitaries of all shades disappear and stop trying to drag us back to the past.

"I think people would see a distinction between attending the funeral of someone you knew personally, and the year on year political commemoration of a death as a means to celebrate and justify the actions of those involved."

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