Margaret Ritchie signs off as leader

Margaret Ritchie addressed the SDLP conference on Saturday afternoon. Ostensibly introducing a panel on Creating Jobs Supporting People, she reflected that she first entered politics to serve people.

Outgoing @sdlplive leader Margaret Ritchie addressing SDLP conference (mp3)

She pointed to a “return to poverty” and a new phenomenon of “middle income poverty”. She described “the onslaught of Tory Welfare Reform” as “a major money-saving exercise at the expense of those at the bottom”.

David Cameron says “We’re all in this together”. But Ritchie responds “That is another lie. None of the Cameron cabinet will struggle to pay their energy bills or their mortgages this winter. None of their children wil be going to bed hungry”.

Margaret Ritchie outgoing leader speech

Closer to home, “SDLP apart, the devolved government here has done very little to support people”. She says that “the people at the top have lost touch”.

Our millionaire First Minister Peter Robinson – surrounded by his barristers and his coterie of £90,000 a year advisers – is too well insulated from the grinding hardship of citizens.

And our globe trotting Deputy First Minister – now back to what he regards as porridge – is too consumed with aspirations of living in a palace in Dublin to really care any more.

We’ve all heard of Big House Unionism. Did you ever think you would have Big House Republicanism?

Ritchie praised Alex Attwood’s contribution as Environment Minister who “prevented the DUP from casting aside proper process and reinstating contracts to the failed East Belfast contractor, Red Sky”. And in a dig at Patsy McGlone she added “And to think some people questioned why I gave him the job!” (emboldened in her script)

She challenged “our candy-floss media to go and look at” last year’s SDLP alternative economic paper.

Finally Ritchie turned to the end of her period of leadership.

It has been an honour to serve the SDLP as its leader. I want to thank the very many people who have assisted me in that role. And I want to pledge my loyalty to whoever is elected as our new leader today – the very same loyalty that I gave, unquestionably, to those leaders who preceded me.

While I have a huge, and I must say, exciting agenda for South Down, I will be honoured to serve the party, centrally, in any role that is asked of me. The SDLP still has something very special to offer our communities and our nation. People continue to look to us for leadership and solutions.

I came into politics to serve and support people. I found a special home for that in the SDLP. We are here for the right reasons. We are here to help people. That is what I will always do> That is what we do best. Thanks you.

She received a long standing ovation from the packed hall.