Fearghal McKinney 113 – 69 Claire Hanna (South Belfast)

SDLP members in South Belfast voted this evening to select the replacement MLA for Conall McDevitt.

Fearghal McKinney chairing a panel at the UUP conferenceHe’ll become the MLA sometime tomorrow, once party leader and nominating officer Alasdair McDonnell informs the Chief Electoral Officer, and once the CEO confirms that Fearghal McKinney is happy to be returned as MLA for South Belfast.

While the result isn’t in doubt, Martina Purdy who spent her evening at the Welly Park Hotel mentions that the voting statistic only had one source … Happy to correct if anyone can confirm or deny. [alaninbelfast at gmail dot com if you need to get in touch]

(I’ll get a better picture for the next Fearghal post!)

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  • Charles_Gould

    Excellent. Well done Fearghal.

    Great to see how a democratic party selects its candidates.

    Unlike some other parties where there is no impression of a discussion.

    Fearghal will be the stronger for knowing he has the backing of South Belfast.

    And Claire knows there is a solid base of support there for next time.

    Great candidates both.

    (Now, the SDLP should select an energetic candidate to tackle West Belfast – there must be low hanging fruit in West Belfast for the SDLP.)

  • David McCann

    That’s the number I’ve got!

  • Charles_Gould

    UTV now have two in the assembly.

  • BluesJazz

    Why is there a photo of Alasdair McDonnell (alongside a UUP poster) in the op above?

  • Thanks Alan,
    Clear result.

  • Comrade Stalin

    UTV now have two in the assembly.

    It’s incredibly unkind to Fearghal to draw comparisons with Mike Nesbitt.

  • It’s the only photo of Fearghal already loaded into Slugger’s archive! If I recall, he was doing Mike a favour and chaired a panel at the UUP conference a few year’s ago before Mike was leader.

  • Well done Fearghal

  • cynic2

    There may be trouble ahead
    But while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance
    Let’s face the music and dance

    Before the fiddlers have fled
    Before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance
    Let’s face the music and dance

    Soon we’ll be without the moon, humming a different tune and then
    There may be teardrops to shed
    So while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance
    Let’s face the music and dance

  • keano10

    In the overall scheme of local politics, this is all largely irrelevant…

  • David McCann

    Heard from someone there that McKinney’s speech was more polished but Hanna spoke more from the heart.

    There you go folks.

    McKinney may surprise. we’ll just have to watch this space. .

  • BluesJazz

    Well done to Ferghal and also Coun Perry in a similar situation elsewhere in the UK:


    Both will be able servants to the British government I’m sure, all politics is local and these two should have their day in the sun.

  • Mark

    Don’t mean to rain on Mr Mckinney’s parade ….. but does it really matter who won ?The SDLP were the Nationalists’ conscience during the troubles but they’re immaterial now . People talk about Robbo’s legacy being ” the only Unionist in town party ” and SF are the same . Chris Andrews won’t be the last FF member to join up and once that starts to happen , it’s game set and match for SF .

    Maybe Conall McDevitt is as shrewd as some here have made out and he saw the writing on the wall , sinking ship ?

  • Mc Slaggart

    Fearghal is ok but I do know he can get Unionists to vote for him.

    Their was some slagging of poor Unionists who voted for him when he was running in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. “He is the nice man of the telly” one friend told me was his fathers excuse.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Unionists who don’t vote unionist ? When there’s a joint unionist unity candidate ? Tell me more.

  • Mark

    Don’t get me wrong CS , there’s always room for the ” LIbs ” but the other two are becoming more and more powerful …. IMO of course .

  • Mc Slaggart

    Comrade Stalin

    “Unionists who don’t vote unionist ? When there’s a joint unionist unity candidate ?”

    I would suggest you try and get out more. Someone even voted for Vasundhara Kamble.

  • BluesJazz

    Gainsborough councilor Coun Perry and Stormont councilor Fearghal McKinney are both new voices in British politics. They both have a contribution to make in terms of making Netanyahu listen to wider Arab opinion and also, in Fearghal’s case address the issue of dog fouling Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon park. Especially Alsatians.
    They will be judged on all counts I hope.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I would suggest you try and get out more.

    Reality is terribly confusing. If unionists vote for nationalists, isn’t it self evident that they’re not unionists ?

    Are you sure you didn’t mean “Prods” ?

  • Charles_Gould

    SDLP need a strong candidate to take on West Belfast. There is low hanging fruit now that SF are in OFMDFM and not focussed electorally on NI.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles, you’re comedy gold. Please keep it coming. If it helps, you’ve an audience back here.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS- not quite sure what you are getting at.

  • sherdy

    He may be the more suave polished performer, but I think Claire would have been a more genuine SDLP MLA.

  • Charles_Gould

    Claire Hanna is clearly a highly vibrant and strong candidate. She (or one of these other stong SDLP young candidates) should stand in West Belfast. There are many seats there; hard to hold on to 5 seats in a constituency.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles – don’t worry about what I’m getting at. Just keep it coming.

    And while you’re there – please please please, with knobs on, please get the SDLP to divert resources and their strongest candidate away from South Belfast to a constituency where Sinn Féin have won the highest vote of any Westminster constituency in the entire UK. Please do it. I promise I’ll get the SB Alliance Association to consider you for honorary membership.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS: my thesis here is built on some considerations:

    *SDLP is the closest substitute among assembly parties to SF.
    *there are *lots* of former-SDLP voters in West Belfast
    *Alex Attwood is not a charismatic candidate, he is technocratic; a charismatic hard working candidate can win here
    *SF have 5 seats; very hard to sustain in PRSTV in any case because electorates are not homogeneous…
    *…and even harder to sustain when you are the lead party in government and therefore having to take difficult decisions.
    *In a sense, the fact you cite that SF have the “highest vote” of any Westminster constituency is what motivates my analysis: that statistic shows how unusual that situation is and hence why there is more room for the SF vote to fall than anywhere else.

  • Mick Fealty

    In a time of crisis, you have to do small things well. Much of the SDLP’s decline (which has been slower and gentler than that of the UUP), was marked by doing some small things really badly.

    The leader, in this case, got his man in, again it has to be said. That’s not necessarily easy for party like the SDLP to pull off. There’s no politbureau, no central intelligence office which constantly grades candidates and has the heft to order them to stand down.

    Whilst he fails to impress on the big stage, it’s scoring small victories he has to look towards. McDonnell’s task in hand is get the party unhooked from the sentimental rhetoric its been spouting since shortly after the GFA and focused on working harder.

    I’d cite four small things done well:

    • The South Down selection race which similarly sidelined a talented young councillor in favour of a older candidate with profile in the middle of the constituency and tasking the MP with guarding Downpatrick, in order to strengthen the party’s defences there.
    • Moving sitting MLA Patsy McGlone to challenge in the Mid Ulster byelection to use his general popularity to start drawing back voters from the considerable SF block there. Small move, surely. But it was smart, and one not taken before.
    • In this case he has moved quickly to get someone who is close to him into the Assembly party (where arguably there are too many horses pulling in odd directions). Fearghal also has a high media profile, which has (as McSlaggart points out above) has an appeal outside the SDLP’s traditional gene pool.
    • The almost surreptitious appointment of a head of communications who has professional experience of running political campaigns in the Republic. It’s early days, but Susanne Collins immediately eased back on the number (and pushed up the quality) of the press releases coming out of the SDLP.

    Claire Hanna is young enough to fight another day in another place. She’s very well got both internally and with people outside the party. She’s hard working, and I sense will put her back into getting a second candidate over the line next time out. That won’t do her any harm in the longer run, if Big Al can switch momentum.

    She also understands what a voter looks like, and is not the type to ‘myther’ about her place in the internal food chain, the way some further up tend to.

    I’m not sure I buy Ruarai’s certainty that Al is working to a strategy or a plan. But he does know the party is in trouble if it doesn’t get its finger out. As a countryman, he has a base in the heart of Catholic middle class Belfast, but he also keenly understands the worth of the political world beyond Glengormley.

    No party in Ireland, north or south, will ever get a whiff of power if it settles itself comfortably into a purely metropolitan, or purely rural base. That may prove to be an important correction from its previously in-turned trajectory.

    As for Fearghal, well his true qualities as a politician have yet to be seen. I have a personal soft spot for him since he was the host of my very first live TV appearance more than ten years ago. He has one good quality that is highly desirable in a politician: he’s likeable.

    He’s going to have his mettle tested in the weeks and months to come. Certainly his profile should be an asset going forward, and he ought to be under no illusion about the realities of politics on the ground after the battering he took in FST.

    Although none of these things mean the corner’s been turned.

    It’s merely evidence that the party is in the charge of someone who understands that politics is a competitive game, and that it is the party leader who has to be in charge of the rudder, and that when he picks a fight, he must be the one who wins it.

  • Neil


    reckon it’s a big ask in WB, but if Bill Manwaring can push a leaflet through my door (which he has done a number of times to his credit) it seems unusual the SDLP haven’t bothered.

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite Neil.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Comrade Stalin

    “Reality is terribly confusing. If unionists vote for nationalists, isn’t it self evident that they’re not unionists ?

    Are you sure you didn’t mean “Prods” ?”

    You are truly an Alliance man.

    Think of it this way “Comrade Stalin ” why would the mans son be saying his father needed an excuse?


    “Prods” regularly vote for the sdlp.

  • FDM

    Can we now expect the Anchorman West-Side-Story-Like rumbles we saw in the movie? More blueberry suits?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Think of it this way “Comrade Stalin ” why would the mans son be saying his father needed an excuse?

    Let me in on the secret, it’s killing me.

    We’re talking here about a unionist who lends his vote to the SDLP and doesn’t care if Sinn Féin win the seat as a consequence. Either he’s not really unionist, or I’m going to have to ask if they’re over-fluoridating the water down there.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “We’re talking here about a unionist who lends his vote to the SDLP ”

    I do not know what the man was thinking when he went into the voting booth. I love your idea that everyone is rational when they get to vote. Put people into a strange situation, and their Amygdala takes over.

    The only thing that is strange about it is the man was so “civil” that he admitted to his mistake.

  • Brian Walker

    I don’t suppose many people ask the question but what do you think of this replacement business? Cheaper than a by-election surely but how democratic? At a stretch ok for councils but for a devolved Assembly with law making powers? The voters elected person as well as a party – this is not a list system where they can do both. If a member stumbles and quits, just feels like quitting or is edged out for being out of fashion, surely s/he should be replaced by election? Doesn’t the party deserveto be called to account? Yes yes I know it disadvantages minority parties but whose fault is that? It could equally pass a verdict on major party in a crisis. Suppose E Belfast in about last March?. Added to the business of rotating minsters, the system gives far too much power to the party machines. Time to grow up?

  • Charles_Gould

    Neil, Mick

    Good points re WB. I think its important for the SDLP to make a play for WB. It’s the biggest nationalist constituency and the SDLP should be relevant there. Much has changed in terms of SF’s main politicians there, they no longer have a “giant” like Adams standing there, the SF people there may inspire WB voters but there should be enough potential SDLP voters in WB to allow a really good SDLP candidate to make progress.

  • boondock

    Charles I think an SDLP renaissance in WB is a long way off. There were 3 elections in 2011 and not one of them had Adams on the ticket and if anything the SDLP vote continued to slide to the extent that People Before Profit were not a million miles behind them in the by-election. Why this has happened is uncertain but the fall in vote since the Hendron era is nothing short of incredible. Im guessing a combination of the following factors has caused the dramatic fall.
    1- Hendron had a huge personal vote as a likeable local GP, Attwood er obviously doesnt
    2 – Hendron was able to get a cross community support again because of his personality and secondly as he was competitive he was able to get the keep SF out votes.
    3 – Maybe a number of the older generation that voted SDLP are no longer with us
    4 – A huge number of people in the last 20 years have moved from West belfast to South Belfast as a result reducing the SDLP vote in WB but increasing it in SB.
    I agree that the SDLP really should be able to get 2 assembly seats in WB but it just isnt happening, maybe its time for some fresh faces!!

  • boondock

    Sorry just to add SDLP time and effort would be better focused on taking back lost seats in NA, FST and SA and working out how they couldnt score into an open net in Stangford than fighting a losing battle in WB. I would say there are probably another 2 or 3 seats elsewhere more winable than anything in WB.

  • Charles_Gould


    A good candidate – think Colm Eastwood – in WB could make inroads.It would take time but the rapid fall in the SDLP’s vote in WB actually shows that there are a lot of SDLP potentials. The other constituencies you mention don’t have as many nationalist voters (once SDLP voters) up for grabs as WB.

  • Barry the Blender

    I heard that in 2003 the SDLP were wise to losing a seat in West Belfast, and decided to shaft Dr Hendron to ensure Attwood got in.

    Why they would do that I’ve never been at all sure.

  • @Brian,

    Because no replacement system is mentioned in the American constitution and we have 50 states, we are able to experiment with different systems. Some states require an automatic by-election to replace a U.S senator or congressman, who is unable to continue in office due to death, illness, or political ambition. Others allow the governor to appoint a replacement–often a spouse. Some specify that an appointment is made if over half the term has been served but a by-election is held if less than half has been served. For executive positions there is always a designated placeholder–a lieutenant governor or vice president–who is either elected on a separate ticket or on the same ticket. Usually to replace senators and congressmen a governor will consult with the head of the state party that the vacated office was won by.

  • Brian Walker

    tmitch, very informative on the US system.. but this is a parliamentary system where co-option and replacement are rare. I believe it was written in to the NI Assembly to avoid disturbing the balance of parties between elections and bringing the whole show down. This is a constraint we no longer need. I also like the US system of a recall election as in California (although I was less impressed with the result of Schwarzenegger).