UPDATE-Hanna v McKinney-SDLP new MLA Fearghal McKinney!

Well the battle is on as Balmoral councillor Claire Hanna will face off against former UTV journalist Fearghal McKinney in a bid to replace Conall McDevitt.

Around 300 members of the South Belfast branch of the SDLP will gather to choose one of these two people to represent the constituency for the next three years.

My money is still on Claire Hanna to win the ballot. She brings everything that the SDLP wants going forward, youth, hard work, ideas and is another woman in what is a largely male dominated assembly group.

However I could be wrong. McKinney does have a good relationship with Alasdair McDonnell and could use this to win tomorrow evening.

Whoever the party chooses it will be an uphill struggle and with such a small margin in South Belfast the winner will have little room for error. The party needs somebody who can hit the ground running and not waste precious time trying to build up a profile.

Earlier in the week I posed the question, does the SDLP have a viable future? Perhaps tomorrow evening might give us some insight into whether it does.


Update-McKinney has given this interview to the Impartial Reporter

Here’s just a bit of what McKinney had to say about the upcoming ballot

A contest is a good thing and I am just looking forward to it. I am hugely encouraged by the reception I am getting in south Belfast. People recognise that I have worked hard for the party. We will wait and see if they value it sufficiently to select me.


BBC’s Martina Purdy reporting delegates at convention saying it will be close.

The turnout is above 250 delegates.

Fearghal McKinney was won the convention ballot-McKinney-113-Hanna-69

, , ,

  • Big Boss


    You seem to be suggesting that to elect McKinney would be a backward step for the SDLP? or that he is only there because he is close to McDonnell?

    Iv seen him a few times, epseically around Dungannon during his bid for MP in the area and the people took to him quite well, if under differenent circumstances he would have been a great MLA, had Gallagher stuck to his word of co-opting.

    I dont know Hanna very well except from what I hear on the radio and she seems capable, person just a like for like swap with McDevitt, but I think in these 2 the SDLP have two very good candidates.

  • Thank you for your interest in my Party.
    As to the answer to your twice-posed question, am I right in thinking that you believe you have the answer?
    That the selection of one candidate (your prefered choice) will mean that SDLP has a viable future and the selection of the other candidate (not your choice) will mean the Party does not have a viable future.

    So in other words we will actually KNOW the answer to this question at around 10pm tomorrow night.

  • Mick Fealty

    You rejoined FJH?

  • David McCann


    I didn’t say that but for me Hanna has a profile of work in that constituency-McKinney does not.

    The point I was making who the SDLP choose tomorrow will be telling about the direction the party will go. This is the leaders seat and will be telling of his agenda for the party going forward.

    Plus-I gave an answer to that question of the future of the SDLP in my earlier post. I also invited others to disagree and prove me wrong.

    Also it’s no use saying ‘ahhh sure we the party will make the choice’ you are going to have to ask the wider electorate to vote one of these two back in.

  • Oh I thought that you were providing some kind of definitive answer.

  • iluvni

    What an affront to decency that an MLA resigns in disgrace, and his party can simply choose another one.

    This scandalous stitch up needs changed immediately or the farce will continue to sink deeper and deeper into disrepute.

  • As with any article, the authors viewpoint and perspective should be taken into account regarding the conclusions or opinions contained within.
    I think most of the commentators on Slugger would fall within that category and that is welcome.
    Davids Slugger profile is a one liner- “David McCann is a PhD researcher at the University of Ulster.”. Fair enough.
    Would David care to comment on his Fianna Fail links and why that may be relevant to him openly supporting a particular candidate for a position in a potentially rival party?
    I’ve no wish to play the Man here or deflect from the main article but I think it is an important point.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep, and we have to have someone point out that David is a member of FF every time he posts, because…? So we don’t have to discuss what he actually writes about?

  • Mick….I think its called declaring an interest.
    And on my own blog and indeed here, I have often chronicled my “interest” as indeed I did earlier and as you noted.
    If it wasnt important to declare an interest, you may not have commented.
    Having said that….it is not immportant for Mr McCann to declare an interest each and every time. His profile, while spartan is certainly more than others declare.
    With longer term Slugger core people, we of course know the background and surely its standard procedure to google people etc.

  • Mick,
    That’s me told off then? 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep! Love ya, but I gatta be straight with ya DB…

    According to one account I have Team Hanna is well organised. It may depend on Fearghal having enough direct pull from Team McD to get enough delegates in to the room.

  • David McCann


    Yeah-I’ve heard that too. Hanna has the edge but like most political conventions if a shift happens it either happens the night before or in the hours leading up to the vote.

  • cynic2

    So its split down the middle then? What a surprise.

    And McKinney shouldn’t be selected because hes a man. So its a party of equality then

    Showbiz for ugly folk!

  • Charles_Gould

    It is, of course, a very sad occasion, because the SDLP is no doubt still coming to terms with the loss of one of its most able MLAs.

    That said, the SDLP have two very able replacements with good values.

    Whoever is selected, I expect that SDLP people will rally round and support him/her.

    What is clear, here, is that the SDLP is a democratic party. This is a very transparent selection process.

    With some other parties, a replacement seems to be nominated without much evidence of an internal constituency election process happening.

  • Charles_Gould

    David McCann – another timely, relevant, and interesting blog.

  • BluesJazz

    Claire Hanna is the SDLP’s ‘International Secretary’.
    As if her day is consumed with debates about arming Hezbollah militants against Assad with Hague and Kerry.

    The Vicar of Dibley assembly has no international dimension outside the ‘North/South’ façade.

    But even better, Fearghal McKinney:

    “Fearghal’s key message is that there is a real opportunity to maximise the voice of the people of his constituency against the backdrop of a potential hung parliament and massive government cuts.

    Bang up to date, in your face, local power to the people. Except the quote is not even about South Belfast, it’s relating to FST. How long ago was the election to the real parliament?

  • Charles_Gould

    BZ where are you quoting this from regarding Fearghal?

    Regarding Claire, the SDLP is part of the European Social Democratic and Labour movement, and as such gives support to international causes when appropriate.

  • Mr McCann…Im intrigued as to why you think at this stage Claire has the edge and then qualify it by saying anything can happen in the last 24 hours. I dont have access to 300 odd delegates and Id be surprised if you did.
    What scientific method was used to make this determination?
    Curious also as to the general thought that there isa SDLP machine and a homespun candidate.
    its not a narrative Id agree.
    As Claires father was General Secretary of the SDLP, her mother a Minister in the power-sharing executive and her husband a former member of the Party Executive and Claire herself on that Executive as an excellent International Secretary…then its at least obvious that Claire herself is very much part of the SDLP Establishment.
    Can that really be true of Fearghal? Is he SDLP “establishment”?
    I daresay he will prove to be his own man.
    Arguably he is much less establishment than Claire.
    There are fascinating sub plots of course.
    Claires supporters might well push the “female in politics” line but then at least some would have to explain why they chose Conall over Bernie Kelly four years ago.
    And Claires suporters might get over-excited and push her record …an excellent one…as a City Councillor and Fearghal being a back room figure. But again many of them would have to explain why four years ago a city councillor was overlooked for a back-room boy.

    The key thing is getting these two very decent people on a balanced SDLP ticket for 2016. And that means they both need a profile as public representatives.

  • BluesJazz

    It’s on the attached link in the OP above to the SDLP website. Click on Fearghal McKinney and his golden vision (from over 2 years ago) shines brightly….oh so brightly.

  • Claire is not the SDLP International Secretary.
    It is Peter Lismore from North Down.

  • Charles_Gould

    BZ it is actually a fair point that Fearghal made, there have been a lot of tight votes in Westminster lately and the SDLP have a good record of attendance, speaking, and voting (on relevant issues).

  • Comrade Stalin

    It shouldn’t be that surprising that David would take such an interest given that a Fianna Fáil-SDLP merger was on the cards not that long ago.

  • Ruarai

    I think this race is a little disappointing from the perspective of the SDLP’s “what next” conversation for one simple reason: it’s a missed opportunity to present a party face – including new faces – that would help lift all boats. Instead, we’re back to coverage of this never-ending internal fiefdom rivalry; a faux-conflict that drains energy and focus from the real fights the party should be directing at its real opponents.

    In fairness to the two candidates mentioned above, of course they have to give it their all – but where were the communication strategists who saw a broader opportunity to champion a new names for the small media window the initial problem inadvertently presented?

    In Claire Hanna’s case she could have run on a platform that explicitly embraced those she’s said to dislike, thereby rapping this up quickly while surprising and disappointing the folks addicted to writing about the party’s internal rivalries.

    In McKinney’s case, how does he make this about him in a positive way rather than appearing as a poster-boy for one section of a divided constituency? He needs to answer that question compellingly, quickly and loudly.

    In the case of the up-and-coming candidates, any chance of getting up and coming on? Where’s the aggression – the drive? In politics you only get what you take – its all that lasts or that’s worth having.

    Perhaps the party can still shift the coverage away from camps – memo to party: you can’t afford the luxury of internal factions – and onto presenting reasons to champion the candidates beyond who’s tent they’re supposedly not in.

    The SDLP doesn’t get a lot of media attention anymore – in the moments it does, surely it can make more use of the opportunity than inviting its lost voters with not more than a chance to gawk at its fascination with itself.


  • I dont know about “harsh”….Id say “wrong”
    as Fearghal was a TV journalist until three or four years ago, it seems factually incorrect to think that he has been part of any infighting within the constituency. In that sense he is a “fresh face”.
    We are after all led to believe that this infighting has been going on for decades.
    If Fearghal has a power base….it might derive from his position as one of two Vice Chairs of the SDLP. A position voted on by more than Branches like Ormeau and Balmoral.
    as Vice Chair he enjoys a level of confidence beyond South Belfast.
    Hardly appropriate to think he has a fiefdom.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s not so much harsh as describing another time, and another place and another party. This way at least, it is going to be short, sharp and over quickly.

    You can only put on that kind of ‘show’ when you have a broader and more robust narrative to set it within.

    Having said that, the no narrative problem is broader than just the smaller parties.

  • Charles_Gould

    I wonder if Claire would stand down from Belfast council?

  • Ruarai


    I think you misread the post. I’m taking issue with the party’s failure to prevent or reshape the media coverage of the race which, you’ll surely agree, has invariably focused on the talk of rivalries and internal divisions.

    In my own post last week I highlighted McKinney’s work that earned him the Vice Chair shot.

    And Mick, I think there is, possibly, arguably, more of a narrative taking root than is immediately obvious. My point about the McDonnell Doctrine last week is that there really is, for those who care to look, a long overdue momentum building at the local branch level. I think you’ll see a party that is soon in much better shape to manage it’s votes, run more councilors and draw on fee-paying members than has been the recent case.

    That may not yet be a political project but in terms of an operation that’s getting back in the game, it’s more interesting than it was.

  • cynic2

    “the party’s failure to prevent or reshape the media coverage”

    they are at each others political throats aren’t they? If nopt why does one not stand down for party unity?

    And why not a job share?

  • Lionel Hutz

    I agree with Mick on that point. I think the media can at times just hit the replay button when it comes to party narrative. But what is unhealthy about having a selection process? I see it as nothing other than promising because both candidates would be decent MLAs in my opinion. They already have a good public profile and seem capable enough.

    The idea that a run off between two candidates is evidence of factions is non-sense. Its just normal……..

    To answer Ruarai, at the end of the day, this is an opportunity to show what talent is waiting in the wings. How does this compare for example. Does Sinn Fein’s method of co-option show a better way? Who is Ian Milne by the way?

    I actually had to look up that on-line……

  • Charles_Gould

    What is wrong with a bit of competition? There’s no need to characterize it as “blood on carpet” etc.

  • cynic2

    “there is a real opportunity (where?????) to maximise the voice of the people of his constituency (in Stormont opposition perhaps????) against the backdrop of a potential hung parliament (Yeah!!!) and massive government cuts.(What massive cuts. Its been a pinprick and net Government expenditure rose?????)

  • Mick Fealty


    Not from what I can tell… This will be over quickly, and whilst I’d have questions about the longer term health of the constituencies, I don’t expect anything like the kind of internal damage being talked about elsewhere.

  • BluesJazz

    “I wonder if Claire would stand down from Belfast council?”
    Why stand down from one parish council (Belfast) while attending another (Dibley)?
    It’s more money, lots more money, of course.
    But isn’t that the point of local politics?
    They cannot actually make a difference to people’s lives in NI- that’s a matter for the real Government at Westminster.
    But they can make a BIG difference to their family income. As none of them have real jobs that require any effort, boarding the 1st class gravy train to Disneyland is like winning the lottery.

  • BluesJazz

    It’s the golden ticket, like in Willy Wonka, getting to Dibley/Stormont. Not just the hefty salary, but the expenses and hiring your wife/daughter etc for “research” mullah.
    And one day, albeit a long shot, you might even get to Westminster and the pot of gold at Dibley becomes secondary to West End shows and premium rate films(Disney only) in 5 star hotels. Taxpayer funded. Christian Ronaldo must be envious.

  • Charles_Gould

    BJ: let us not dismiss the effective and hard work that local politicians do in NI. It is not an easy job. Nor is it well remunerated for the hours put in.

  • BluesJazz

    Sure CG
    Soldiers in Afghanistan are paid £15,000 per annum, no overtime. And I’m sure A&E nurses etc pity the politicians. All those overseas trips away from family with only taxpayer funded videos in 5 star hotels to relieve the boredom .
    The fact that the Dibley assembly doesn’t actually DO anything is pertinent. And what they DON’T do they’re trying to foist on to local councils, who empty the bins???
    But we’ve 28,000 civil servants to tell the other public sector workers what to do. More than London (pop. 8.5 million)

  • BluesJazz

    Should add, the taxpayer funded videos in 5 star hotels are *DISNEY*films. ‘The Lion Queen’ etc. in case people get the wrong end of the stick, so to speak.

  • socaire

    I don’t think Ms Hanna stands a chance. She is intelligent, personable and would stick out like a sore thumb among the older women in the party. But whoever wins will get to choose prime place at the wake.

  • socaire

    ………. and how can Bluesjazz post at 12.54 when it is only 12.15??????????????????

  • socaire

    Has anybody the winner of the 1.30?

  • socaire

    Sorry. Only acting the mick.

  • son of sam

    By the way,what happened to the redoubtable Caroline Mc Neill espoused by Ruairi from thousands of miles away?

  • Padraig Van Zandt

    Son of Sam

    Be assured she is stellar and beyond this parish pump nonsense. My words – not hers…

    It’s a shame that in 2013 the 6 counties are not yet nearly rehabilitated enough to move away familial legacy, Will Ferrell and partitionist thinking types.

    It’s a lucre thing – let’s face it…

    SF in power in the South is the next trojan horse for ending partition proper – only in that new Ireland can proper talent emerge bereft of the micro politics that will be on display tonight.

    We are all cashed out waiting for progress.

    Did you not know SofS that even in old Blighty – the best candidates never stand anymore…I wonder why?

  • In fairness I had a go at the author of this post at the start. I’m a Dub and still very sore at his Party’s legacy but regarding tonights vote, I hope the best choice is made from 3 perspectives. The party, the constituency and the wider electorate, in no particular order.
    Mick knocked me back as is his perogative although David notably made no comment when I called into question his perspective . That was interesting.
    Personally as a party and constituency outsider I’d consider Fearghal as the best bet but it will be interesting

  • Ruarai

    “By the way,what happened to the redoubtable Caroline Mc Neill espoused by Ruairi [Ruarai] from thousands of miles away?”

    I asked, could she take S. Belfast? I think she will. Eventually.

    Good question though – let’s keep an eye out for her in the times ahead.

  • IJP


    Fair play to you for putting your money down, as it were, but I have to say I don’t understand your reasoning at all.

    As I read it, the Leader wants McKinney and the Leader must surely have the numbers in his own constituency. So it’ll be McKinney. Have I missed something?!


    I would have thought Claire Hanna is next in line, as it were, and that she would be in pole position for the second nomination next time out by virtue of having put her name forward this time. She also happens to be a very good Councillor (as I’m sure Caroline McNeill would be too).

    That’s assuming also that there are two SDLP seats. Which I doubt, especially if, by 2016, they’re reduced to five per constituency.

  • David McCann


    You could be right-I’m arguing that Hanna would be likely to be the best person while McKinney is probably the best bet.

    We’ll find out at 10pm tonight.

  • Ruarai


    my prediction is not dated so they’re not mutually exclusive options.

    I’ve also heard great things and no bad things about C. Hanna’s work as a Councillor. I’ve never met her or McKinney but there’s no questioning either’s capacity for local work.

    For me, local work is a precondition but not a qualification.

    We surely must raise the bar beyond elected social services as a sufficient criterion. If I were an elector I’d want to hear how they will not only serve their constituents; I would want to be impressed by their ideas and intended actions for helping their party redress its decade long drift. Their attributes for helping to tackle their party’s overall rebuilding would be themes I’d want them to address well.

  • Barry the Blender

    That’s assuming also that there are two SDLP seats. Which I doubt, especially if, by 2016, they’re reduced to five per constituency.

    Bit of a side issue, but why do you think the SDLP’ll lose a seat next time?

    And more’s the point, why do you think MLA numbers will be reduced to 5/constituency?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Is McKinney not likely to be another Mike Nesbitt, believing that his time as a journalist interviewing politicians somehow gives him extra qualifications to represent people in the assembly. I would also have guessed that parachuting him in there could lead to problems within the SB association.

    Hanna is obviously the better candidate, but of course it is really an internal matter for the SDLP.

  • Comrade, we will know shortly, I don’t agree about Hanna but as you say it is an internal matter. All politics is local of course

  • Charles_Gould

    Hanna – ideologically rooted
    McKinney – affable

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think Claire Hanna would be on the whole a better candidate than Ferghal McKinney but strategically it’s better to co-opt the latter. It would be terminally damaging for Ferghal to fail to get nominated again imo and if the party is looking at having both as candidates for the next election then it’s best to put up Ferghal now and Claire later. Losing this does no harm to Claire.

  • Charles_Gould

    Lionel – you have a point.

    I like both candidates. Both are good and whoever wins it is a good outcome indeed.

  • Lionel Hutz

    If the party manage this right they keep two seats. Fearghal McKinney has better chance of making an immediate impact and could bring in a second candidate. On balance he’s the right choice for now.

  • Charles_Gould

    Lionel shouldn’t Claire stand in West Belfast? That constituency is ripe for attack I would have thought.

  • David McCann

    A bit of a S.Belfast profile.

    Bit of fact file about the S.Belfast-the SDLP held their second seat by less than 500 votes. Turnout was just 52.4% in 2011.

    If the party’s support dropped around 2-3% then that second seat would be gone.

    SDLP support in S.Belfast has unlike other places largely held steady at around 23%. That’s 8% higher than their national average.

  • Charles_Gould

    RESULT: Well done Fearghal!

  • Charles_Gould

    McKinney beat Hanna 113 to 69

  • Charles_Gould

    A very democratic party. Debate. Discussions. Votes.

    Not just some appointed person.

    It’s actually very good for Fearghal to know he has the support, rather than just being selected from on high as may happen in some other parties.

  • IJP


    The DUP/SF would gain from 5 per constituency (as smaller parties gain from more per seat) and so may well put it through.

    SDLP only scraped second seat last time. With strong challenges either side, the odds are against them.

  • son of sam

    Presume the S D L P in Fermanagh /South Tyrone can now proceed to select their candidate for the next Assembly election as Fearghals dalliance with that area seems over!

  • Charles_Gould

    Low hanging fruit in Fermanagh for the SDLP.

  • Lionel Hutz

    So, does anyone believe that this process was damaging. Looks like a good showing to me

  • Charles_Gould


    It shows the SDLP as a mature democratic party with excellent candidates, both of whom would have been great.

    Other parties may appoint cooptees from on high with no internal discussion. SDLP debate, vote, elect…..one member one vote.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Calm down. It’s a selection meeting. You’ll find that the process is broadly similar in all the parties. It sounds like this is all a bit new to you.


    A selection meeting isn’t newsworthy in itself. Factions and infighting within the SDLP on the other hand are. I’d be mightily pissed off myself if I was upstaged by a chap parachuted in on the back of his TV credentials.

  • Ruarai

    I think it was a good showing too.

    A series of decent names aired (I’, surprised there wasn’t even more airing for some of them but that’s a minor point). Two very able people and the winner offers the added bonus of bringing some much needed perspective of the view from outside the party, given his relatively recent move into politics. The party needs that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Two very able people and the winner offers the added bonus of bringing some much needed perspective of the view from outside the party, given his relatively recent move into politics. The party needs that.

    That’s what they said in the UUP.

  • Ruarai

    Touché Comrade.

    (But the difference is that McKinney has had to earn entry-level and up.)

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mike Nesbitt’s big problem is that he doesn’t know his own limitations, which are that he doesn’t know that much about politics. I don’t detect that McKinney has that problem.

    But there are other problems. This is a bloke off the TV who ran for Fermanagh, failed (spectacularly), and then appears to have jumped in to the first available vacancy is risky. His work is going to be cut out dealing with that.

    He has a clear mandate from the constituency. On the face of it those numbers look great but .. did the party leader (and his pals) dust off the membership records and sweet-talk/flatter long-forgotten members who never turn up at party events out to the Welly Park to short-circuit the Hanna camp ? I’ve seen that done before – and when I have, there’s almost always been bad blood.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS I don’t really see the downside here. Fearghal is a very likeable person with good values who won an electoral competition with another excellent candidate. This is all good stuff.

    Claire Hannah comes across really well – she is brightand I am inclined to say she is a *star*. The SDLP is blessed to have people of her level of talent. She really shone today and I think she has a bright future in NI politics as a future MLA.

  • Charles_Gould

    Sorry I mis-spelt Claire’s surname. Hanna not Hannah!

  • iluvni,

    I don’t think you understand the nuances of our voting system. If a bye-election had to be held, then smaller parties would lose seats that they won handsomely in the previous election.

  • Comrade Stalin

    CS I don’t really see the downside here.

    Of course you don’t. That’s part of why I think you’re so brilliant.

    Fearghal is a very likeable person with good values who won an electoral competition with another excellent candidate.

    Because we’re such great pals I won’t mention Fermanagh South Tyrone.

    This is all good stuff.

    Claire Hannah comes across really well – she is brightand I am inclined to say she is a *star*.

    Indeed. After all she’s in the SDLP, and as you and I both know the SDLP is packed to the gills with unadulterated genius.

    The SDLP is blessed to have people of her level of talent. She really shone today and I think she has a bright future in NI politics as a future MLA.

    But she’s going to have to wait a bit longer than she thought she might have to. Won’t this delay along her path to winning a Nobel prize disappoint her just a tad ?

  • Charles_Gould

    CS: would you accept that Claire Hanna is excellent, with good values, and is a great asset to the SDLP?