Carmel Hanna to retire from Assembly

News came through yesterday afternoon that the SDLP’s South Belfast MLA Carmel Hanna is to retire from the Assembly.

Originally from Warrenpoint, Carmel was elected a councillor for the Balmoral Ward on Belfast City Council in 1997 (a position she recently resigned from) and became an MLA the following year. She was later appointed Employment and Learning Minister at Stormont before suspension.

Outgoing SDLP Leader Mark Durkan paid tribute to Carmel, saying: “Carmel Hanna has served her constituents of South Belfast, the people of Northern Ireland, the wider SDLP with dignity, determination and dedication during a distinguished political career as a councillor, Assembly Member and as a Minister.

“During this time she has remained steadfastly committed to social democracy and peaceful politics.”

So, what now? Well, a selection convention is due to take place on 9 December to find her replacement. Under recent changes to rules, the old system whereby prospective MLAs submitted a list of possible replacements should they leave office or die has been replaced by a simple co-option mechanism. We’ve already seen Danny Kinahan replace David Burnside this way.

Once the party selects Carmel’s successor, it’ll simply be case of them taking her place at a time of her and her party’s choosing.

At the minute there appears to be two key candidates- Balmoral Branch Chair and Slugger contributor Conall McDevitt and local councillor Bernie Kelly.

Conall has the experience of being a key party staffer at the time of the Good Friday Agreement and currently works as MD of a PR firm. As someone who enjoys a high media profile, he’ll be hoping to tap into the idea of party renewal and the promotion of new faces who want to take the SDLP forward in the wake of its fortieth anniversary next year.

Meanwhile, Bernie Kelly, who serves on the party’s Executive, will most likely focus on the fact that she has experience as a public representative in South Belfast as a councillor since 2005, and was Deputy Lord Mayor in 2007/08.

As yet, there is no word of anyone else running. Of course, there’s nothing to say that candidates must originate from the Balmoral Branch- there may well be others in other parts of South Belfast such as Cromac and Ormeau who fancy their chances.

Whatever the outcome, it’ll be an interesting aside to the leadership contest that will continue through this period until party conference in February next year.

  • TexMex

    A real loss for the people of South Belfast. Carmel was always a hard grafter with a touch of class

  • Brian Walker

    Does anyone else have doubts about the fitness for co-option to the Assembly? I dislike it on the democratic grounds that it places too much control into party hands. For the same reason, I dislike closed party lists.

  • Paul Simon

    What’s interesting is this Gary.

    Exactly one week ago on Slugger, on Conall’s blog ‘Big problems – small politics’, I posted the following:

    “Conall, I see you only quote Eamonn Mallie these days when it suits your narrow political career ambitions (as Margaret’s deputy…. but not, of course, if McDonnell finishes her and Carmel off in the next few months).

    …Now – how’s your own deputy leadership campaign going???”

    Conall reacted petulantly by claiming I was ‘playing the man’, while Mick chirped in – with his usual totally non-party political impartiality – to accuse me of being a troll with no politics. (Check it out yourselves.)

    Looks like I was right – and there’s more where that came from…. (maybe even DSD Minister if Margaret is successful, according to well-placed sources, eh Conall?).

    Come the conference in February, Mick, I’ll happily let you count Conall’s candidature for deputy leadership as another Slugger O’Toole exclusive.

    And I’ll keep you all posted as Conall seeks to take the Big Al out of Balmor’al’ in the next few months. Watch this space.

  • Gary McKeown

    Brian, I prefer the co-option system to the list system anyway. At least there’s more scope for democratic accountability within parties if someone needs replaced, whereas the list system provided greater excuse for prospective MLAs to put in a sheet of paper with all their friends’ names on it with no input from party members.

    Within a PR-STV system, co-option is probably fairer than a by-election as it maintains the proportionality dictated by the electorate in the original election. In the FPTP system, by-elections are fine as there’s only ever one winner.

  • Johnny B Good

    If MLAs can just stand down at any time and be replaced by an old Jo Blogs with a party membership what’s the point in asking the public to vote for a candidate?

    Wouldn’t be more open, honest and transparent to either:

    1) Have a Party List election; or

    2) Have MLA by-elections.

    Option 2 would be much more democratic.

  • DR

    I strongly dislike the list system and am old fashioned in I think you vote for the person as much as the party, strangely STV greatly strengtens this and I have seen several sitting councillors unseated by party colleagues when the voters decided which they prefer, however I think co-option is necessary both at Stormont and should be extened to councils, logically applying the person not party ideal it should be the decision the outgoing MLA to nominate their successor, they could easily pass that choice over to their party, or the party can make it a party rule that they do so, although if they chose not to and were retiring they could do little to stop them nominating someone not of their choice.
    To use the other system of have the party nominate by right implies the seat belongs to the party and not the individual, and extending that logic means defections should not be allowed. Which although they are nasty things I believe it is the individuals right to do so.
    so if Conall become an MLA do you think his blog will continue?

  • Paul Simon


    Conall McDevitt is not any “old Jo Blogs”.

    According to his own Weber Shandwick bio, he was the spokesperson for John Hume (a Christ/God relationship?) and helped negotiate the GFA (with Bill, Bertie and Blair).

    What’s more, he’s going to be the next MLA for South Belfast and – if the grey suits get their way – the next deputy leader of the SDLP and maybe even the next DSD Minister.

    You read it here first.

  • JoMax

    Paul Simon
    You’re a bit pathetic. The only function of your pseudonym is to put the boot into Conall. Why don’t you have the courage of your convictions and append your real name when making ad hominem attacks?

    I don’t think A. McDonnell “finished off” Carmel Hanna. Secondly, your “exclusive” isn’t going to happen. Even if McDonnell is beaten by Ritchie, he is still SDLP Deputy Leader and can’t be challenged until the following Conference.

  • Daniel

    I think Paul Simon is in love with Conall McDevitt but can’t articulate his feelings.

    Love him or hate him Conall McDevitt is clearly scaring/worrying the be’jesus out of some folk.

    Conall for President.

  • Alan Alan

    Carmel will be missed in South Belfast. Despite her belonging to a different party, I always found her courteous, courageous and prepared to help.

    I first met her at a meeting of Taughmonagh Community Forum. This was just after the ceasefire and Taughy could be a tough place for a nationalist politician back then. More power to her elbow for attending.

    It is that level of committment to grass roots representation that we need. We need pols who have put in the hours of sitting around in drafty church halls discussing bin collection and the vandalism caused by the local glue sniffers – and fewer smooth suit wannabees.

  • bogexile

    If we run each candidte through the filter of ‘power should never be given to those who crave it’ who would come out ahead? 😉

  • Martin

    Awk for goodness sake get off your armchairs and go for a walk!!

  • Daniel

    Here here.

    Martin for president.

  • AlanAlan

    It’s more a case of how pols pay their dues, than exhaustive dissection of their individual cravings.

    Without ambition none will stand, but without humility none will serve.

  • Boris

    A non-worker gets a job as an SDLP MLA? I wonder where we’ve heard that one before; half the SDLP’s assembly members fall into that bracket, its the reason why they’re falling apart.

    At least Bernie Kelly would work, McDevitt would have to find the time to peel his arse of the seats in the UTV Live studio to get up to the Assembly.

  • Justin

    Either candiate would be more than capable of being an excellent MLA, I hope they both apply (I’m not ruling anyone else out) and allow the members in South Belfast to evaluate their different strengths over the coming month.

    Personal attacks on Conall don’t help anyone else, he is an articulate media performer who has helped get the SDLP message across on many occasions.

  • Justin

    Either candiate would be more than capable of being an excellent MLA, I hope they both apply (I’m not ruling anyone else out) and allow the members in South Belfast to evaluate their different strengths over the coming month.

    Personal attacks on Conall don’t help anyone else, he is an articulate media performer who has helped get the SDLP message across on many occasions.

  • Expenses111

    It is laughable. Conal has criticised the Assembly and Executive and now he is on the gravy train. Pathetic

  • DC

    Quick, somebody vote her MLA of the year – getting out of a sinking ship – such judicious behaviour.

  • J Kelly

    According to his own Weber Shandwick bio, he was the spokesperson for John Hume (a Christ/God relationship?) and helped negotiate the GFA (with Bill, Bertie and Blair).

    Oh no not another stoop who claims to have wrote and negotiated the gfa i thought that with durkans retirement we had jeard the last of that nonsense.

  • slug

    These comments about Conall are rather pathetic.

    Ambution is to be admired.

  • exile

    He has the courage to stand up and be counted. Fair play to him. I do, however, find co-opts somewhat unpalatable.

  • Pete O’Mahony

    To those of you sniping at someone with the courage to put his name forward, the words of the song spring to mind.

    “Come out you black and tans, come out and fight him like a man”

  • [i]It is laughable. Conal has criticised the Assembly and Executive and now he is on the gravy train. Pathetic.[/i]

    What exactly are you complaining about? Someone with strong opinions on how the Assembly should run wishing to go to the Assembly where he might have a chance to change things? Probably taking a pay cut too. The only laughable thing is the armchair pundits on here who only appear on SDLP threads to spout baseless innuendo.

  • J Kelly

    the good thing if conall wins is no change in the sdlp because he has played a central role in their demise…margaret leader, alex atwood deputy, conall minister the dream team, these people will have the same effect on margarets career that they had on brid rodgers. remember her

  • borden

    Provo Sinn Fein must be getting rattled as the ‘j kelly’ returns to the fold!!! ‘J’ why don’t you stop hitting on the stoops and start focusing on Martina Anderson winning Foyle.

  • fin

    Conall, considering he’s a PR person needs to hire one himself, his Wikipedia entry is obviously self-written and badly so resulting in the Wiki moderators putting warnings on it, his blog has a near 90% bounce rate ie people hit it and leave immediately, his bio bigs himself up to a silly level he apparently was involved in the GFA and Drumcree talks and his even manages to name drop James Connolly.

    His posts on slugger are hardly the stuff of legend, he’s obviously a political animal, and fair play to him, however I don’t think he does political animal very well.

    I guess the proof will be in the pudding, if his bio is remotely accurate he can call on an awful lot of past SDLP big guns to speak on his behalf.

    If he can stand in front of the SDLP and front up with his experience at the coalface of the GFA and Drumcree than he should be a shoo-in for the role.

    But I can see Hanna’s seat as a tough one to defend, the UUP dropped massively there in he recent past, a bounce back must be a threat, its a tough job to convince the party to hand the seat over and then hit the doorsteps and build a profile with voters in a short period before the next election.

    If Conall was to get a seat I’d say Hanna’s pitch is the one best suited to him (despite his IRA background I don’t think he’d challenge any Shinners)

    Good luck to him

  • JD

    “The SDLP can see Fianna Fail and Irish Labour support groups in the North as a threat but given neither are contesting elections why not convert them into allies”.

    Oh God – another Stoop that thinks the rest of the Irish political spectrum owes them a living. That’s not exactly a rallying cry to renew the SDLP as a strong party in its own right.

    The SDLP for years had Provos that didn’t do politics and Southern Parties that gave them a free run due to the troubles. The troubles are over, the GFA is long accepted. What’s next?

    All this “New Ireland” blather isn’t going to address the fundemental problem for the SDLP that they still don’t get that in politics eaten bread is soon forgotten and if you can’t stand on your own two feet, perhaps its time to bite the bullet and have the courage to join up with someone else. It happend with Republican Labour and the many other groups that formed the SDLP in 1970, Democratic Left in 1999, the Progressive Democrats in 2008 and now the UUP with their joining the Tories.

    Expecting others to do your heavy lifting and work is not a sustainable strategy. In fact its downright unfair

  • granni trixie

    I am not surprised (very conscious of Slugger as “a boys club”, sorry Mick) that noone has mentioned so far the gender and perhaps even age bias in this SDLP contest,so typical of all political parties.

  • Pete whitcroft

    Sounds like sour grapes all round.
    Wouldn’t you all want to be MLA’s and change the world and then be corrupted by the system?
    Conall has the goal in front of him and I hope he shoots and scores.
    He’s bound to be better than 75% of them at least, even if he’s a free state foreigner.

  • paddy

    how much of a pension will she draw for being as much use as a chocolate fireguard like the rest of the wasterels

  • Boris

    Granni Trixie,

    If the SDLP wanted to make sure they kept the same number of women in the Assembly, then they’d pick Bernie Kelly, who I think is also chair of their Women’s Group. I’d also guess that the only people they’d get to run for her council seat then would mainly be women, people like Claire Hanna or Mary Kennedy and maybe even our own dear Mr. McDevitt.

  • Carrie

    I don’t know Mcdevitt, but he is obviously scaring the shit out of a lot of people (all you lovely shinners!). But really, imagine someone in the assembly who is interesting articulate and professionally successful? I also imagine that if his bio is correct this kind of crap will be water of a ducks back. I’ve read a lot of what he’s written and he’s generally positive, thoughtful and looking towards the future. Maybe that’s the problem- you’d be happier with someone to drag us all back into the past. I’m sure the other candidate is fine, but more of the same for the sdlp. I wish him well.

  • Pete O’Mahony

    Why should Conall come on?

    He did not write the post and none have you have said anything meaningful.

    Is it that having found their was no future in actual assasination you are now settling for the altogether less manly exercise of botched character assasination.

    Mc Devitt is putting himself up for election. You boys dont even have the courage to show your faces.

    You are behaving just like the Brits do when they feel threatened.


  • Danny O’Connor

    Back to the point, I thank Carmel for her contribution to politics here,she has been a dedicated public servant of great integrity and her significant contribution to the all party group for international development will be missed.
    Good luck to whoever the members choose as her replacement,I that they both can do a good job for the people of the constituency.

    Good luck Carmel and God Bless you in whatever you choose to do with all that time you will now have.

  • Spittle watch

    So the problem now is that Conall used to work for sdlp? Is that like Paul maskey, michelle gildernew, martina Anderson, daithi mckay, Mitchell mcloughlin, or carol nichuilain used to work for sinn féin?

  • Ball, not man, people. Can you stick to the topic of the thread please without dragging Slugger down? Thanks.