SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell confirms he will exit from the Assembly “in the next few months”

Alasdair McDonnellI was in a very vulnerable seat in South Belfast. I’m re-elected there and I will be choosing Westminster [interrupted] We will sort out Stormont in the next few months, that will be done. (Alasdair McDonnell)

Bookies will be opening two sets of odds today:

  • Who will be Alasdair McDonnell’s replacement as MLA for Belfast South as he confirmed on today’s Sunday Politics that he will step down from his position as MLA? [Claire Hanna must surely be the favourite, or former councillor Niall Kelly …]
  • How many blog posts will be written on Slugger O’Toole about the candidate selection and co-option? [Back in 2013 we managed 3+ articles over a few days]

No doubt SDLP insider FitzJamesHorse will keep us up to date on his blog with the front runners once he recovers from his tour of the 18 Westminster constituencies. Questioned further about the timetable of his departure from the Assembly and his future as SDLP leader the Alasdair McDonnell added:

I will be talking to the party about the process of moving now that I have secured the Westminster seat for the third time. That’s a major achievement. South Belfast is still a unionist majority constituency and I have won it against the head on three occasions … We’re only hours after the election and I’m going to basically talk to party colleagues and set the processes in train at a convenient moment to find a replacement and we will move on then …

I don’t put myself forward [to the annual conference to stand as leader]. It’s very simple: the party branches put me forward. And if the party wants me I’ll be there as leader as long as they want me. And as soon as they find somebody else or think they’ve found somebody else I’ll be quite happy to step aside …

Now to await Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell’s announcements that they’ll swiftly end their double jobbing or whether they’ll wait until the new law kicks in at the next Assembly election. Maybe one of them hopes to be announced as Health Minister tomorrow (Monday 11)

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  • Brian O’Neill

    Niall is north Belfast so Claire Hanna must be the favourite.

  • Ernekid

    I think it would it be safe to say that McDonnell has been one of the worst leaders the SDLP have had in their history.

    He’s no John Hume.

  • Dan

    …the most overrated politician on the planet.

  • mickfealty

    Id prefer to leave such judgements to posterity. Every party leader since Hume has presided over decline, so if that’s all we mean it doesn’t mean.

    I’ll wait to judge him by what comes afterwards. But he has brought in new talent and got life back into parts of the party that looked moribund before.

  • Brian Walker

    Like its Labour big sister, the SDLP needs a mission and sense of direction before it plays pass the parcel among veterans with the leadership. Although I have a personal interest in being anti-ageist, some bright young things
    should be calling for passing of the 1960s to 1980s generation. Their time is up, their undoubted usefulness is spent. They are starting to make the Craigavon- Joe Devlin generation look fresh.

    The “social democratic” moniker has become even more of a mockery and should not be confused with corporatist dependence on the public sector. Read their manifesto. Away from localist tinkering, policy hardly exists, survival politics as in the eloquent blogs below, is all.

    It is about time the penny dropped. Limiting the struggle to the core vote traps parties in sectarianism,

    The orIginal SDLP marked was a generational shift from ultra
    semi- abstentionist conservative nationalism to the well- educated self confident Catholic children of the welfare state. For a time it rode the zeitgeist even as the Troubles deepened, up until the collapse of the 1974 power sharing Executive, when politics rather than vote harvesting virtually ceased for a generation.

    A similar new beginning is needed now for the more politically
    and religiously agnostic Catholics of the present generation. I say Catholic unapologetically. That is the honest starting point.

    The SDLP have done far too little to tap into and steer the growing self confidence of the Catholic part of the community which clearly wants to do business in every sense and look outwards with their Protestant and “other” confreres, with the south, the English, everybody.

    While some of the young Turks take a different line, this is
    mainly a moderately catholic conservative party. In social policy it should move to a centre-left position in tune with aspiring Catholics in an area where amazingly SF has the clearest run of all the parties.

    It should now be clear that playing mini-me to SF has done
    them no favours. Yet it persists in places out of fear .

    They should devise a cross community cultural policy ( not hard, it’s in place outside politics On the past they should call for immunity for both sides to come clean.

    Once the SDLP was allied with credit union. Where are the
    economically literate who can forge links with business?

    Their mission has to be cross community for the benefit of their core and would be voters. We are told { ok by the polls) this what people want. There is a whole field out there of embryonic initiatives, often half baked it’s true and politically difficult, but worth tackling.

    Above all the SDLP and all the parties need to decide whether
    they support integration, or sharing and separate development. The rhetoric has been too easily adopted and has become almost meaningless.

    It is time to face a future in which all too often, the community seems to be ahead of the politicians..

  • mickfealty

    Hard to disagree Brian. I tend to go back to Tim Bale’s 2012 advice to Fianna Fáil, certainly do reform, but don’t take too long or let it distract from the business of politics.

    My own feeling is that reform thing is all Al has really had to offer. That and the guts and passion not to let matters slide further.

    The analogy with Labour is both stark and profound.

  • Crow

    I think they should bring in some new blood from south of the border. Perhaps some displaced talent from Fianna Fáil? Bertie is not too busy these days.

  • Slater

    Pat McCarthy who lost his council seat last year but has a strong connection to the people in the south of the city would be a likely runner. He is also a former Lord Mayor.

  • Jon Hope

    It’d be really good to see someone come in who could bring vision and recapture the USP of the SDLP. They were the champions of civil rights in the 60’s when it was divisive and even unpopular to do so. That’s their heritage, everybody knows it. The constituency has changed but the battle remains the same. The big issue of our time is marriage equality and there’s a backlog of regressive laws (blood bans etc) to rescind. They should be leading the charge.

    Instead they seem to be hopping between party policy and conscience, with no clear message. You even have to hand it to Mike Nesbitt on this one, sometimes you have to do a quick audit of personnel to consolidate the message.

    I’m no Peter Murrell or anything but it does seem like there’s a Derry coup coming. Let’s hope they get someone into leadership who can do what’s necessary. Struggling with your conscience over equal marriage? Abortion in cases of FFA? Thanks for your years of service as an MLA, enjoy your retirement.

    It’s this or oblivion. I have young nationalist/left leaning friends who have absolutely no reason to vote SDLP. They vote Alliance, Sinn Féin, Green, all of whom have strong candidates and positions that can be easily parsed and identified. If representative of wider nationalist circles that would represent a worrying trend.

  • P Bradley

    The SDLP needs to shout out its message. I am a 50+ voter, think I am a modern, liberal, not-tied to catholic doctrine, definitely Irish, centre left, bloke (not entirely comfortable with that moniker, but ….) Who do I vote for? I don’t like the sectarianism of SF or the Unionist views of people like Gregory Campbell – his denigration of Irishness just hardens my political outlook. Campbell just boosts SF votes and makes the challenge of SF so much easier.
    So what’s the message worth shouting out? Irish. Protect the vulnerable. Provide excellent public services. Support enterprise and prepare for jobs of immediate and longer term future. Not an easy mix to balance, but needs to be done. Supporting enterprise against all else is fairly easy. Supporting public services without worrying about mis-use and exploitation of services can’t be financially supported.
    I see a lot of comments that express SDLP and Alliance votes as possibly interchangeable. Not for me. I have an Irish identity. Alliance is an identity that says that “I am moderate and don’t care what nationality I am”, although most seem to have a British identity. I am moderate but my Irish identity is important for me.

  • Kevin Sheridan

    Claire Hanna would already be an MLA if she was on better terms with Alasdair, but she cannot be denied the seat much longer. The bigger story is Alasdair himself as the word is that the Assembly group has finally had enough and will be telling him that his time is up as leader in the very near future.

  • Dan

    If he goes and is replaced in the assembly, how many unelected appointees does that make in total in that anti-democratic talking shop?

  • banana man

    I don’t see the point in an NI leader being in Westminster only, they get little to no media coverage. Maybe he chose the Westminster seat because he knows his replacement would be certain to lose it again in the by-election

  • Brian O’Neill

    Yeah I think they will have a new leader by the end of the year. Problem is the favourite candidate colum Eastwood does not know if he can be arsed with all the hassle. Who can blame him?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Niall and Justin should contest the council seat co-option.

  • Gaygael

    Am I not right in thinking that the South Belfast party branch will decide who is co-opted?

    When Conall McDevitt resigned, there was a contest between Fergal McKinney, who had stood in FST in 2010, and Claire Hanna who was one of two Balmoral Cllrs elected in 2011. She scored above quota, maybe building her own base following on the family tradition.

    Fergal was the one wanted or chosen by Alasdair. He won 113 to 69.

    So who are the candidates. Firstly local reps.
    Claire Hanna cllr for Balmoral.
    Declan Boyle cllr for Botanic.
    Kate Mullan cllr for Lishnasharagh.

    Any others in the local group?
    Pat McCarthy, former Lord Mayor stood unsuccessfully in Botanic behind Declan Boyle. There is also Justin McNally, ‘the economic unionist’ who was number two to Claire Hanna in Balmoral.

    What about parachutes? Like fergal last time. Justin McNally? Unlikely as the presumption is that his candidacy was quite localised and very recent. Unless Alasdair delays for months? Is there anyone else? I don’t think so.

    I would put it as a race between the current crop of cllrs and Pat McCarthy. It will be interesting.

    On the wider point, if there is a fresh face, and then Alasdair is replaced as leader, will there be a wider shake up? North belfast, west Tyrone also?

  • Gaygael

    Why Niall and why Justin? And which Justin.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Justin Cartwright, Niall Kelly if he wants,

  • Brian Walker

    PS I would also like to stop the racket of co-option to the Assembly after a clean break with double jobbing. I know it seems tough for multi member constituencies elected by STV but co-option serves the interests of parties more than the voters and is a bad thing

  • Brian Walker

    P Bradley But we people in these islands are coming round to a view that national identity need not be fully expressed by the state you happen to live in. Just before he retired John Hume told me in a Commons bar how much he’d miss all his colleagues there. His nationalism of a particular kind quite different from SF’s couldn’t be questioned. We are all B, i NI in the ratios and order of our choice. B and I citizenship is virtually interchangeable.

    But fine, if that isn’t enough for you, parties with similar missions that lean to one or other side of the divide should be able to make better common cause than now.Should it really be so difficult to have reasons for cross community voting?

  • tmitch57

    I agree, given the franchise system, co-option from the party of the departing MLA makes much more sense than a by-election. A by-election only makes sense for FPTP elections. In PR-list systems co-option is used and PR-STV is a form of proportional representation.

  • Brian
    Whilst I empathise with the sentiment, the rationale behind co-option in multi-member constituencies elected by STV is sound.
    The abuse of the co-option mechanism by political parties is, however, a problem that should be addressed.

  • Dan

    Aaah, Eastwood, the bearer of the IRA terrorist’s coffin.
    What a choice he’d be….

  • Brian
    Just a quick question.
    Whose “favourite candidate”?

  • I’d certainly ban shifting MLAs between constituencies via co-option mid-term.

  • Brian Walker

    Along with all the criticism of McDonnell lets remember one good thing – his refusal of a pact with SF. They’ll have noted how it benefited unionism. in the interest of democracy.let’s hope they don’t succumb for the Assembly election where it usually has less value anyway

  • Brian Walker

    Pete and Alan, Ideally,allow for illness or other major crisis or disgrace. Ban for mere convenience like getting elected to another legislature. OK it won’t happen because the rules would be impossible to set and you can’t stop people walking away.

  • Jon Hope

    Worrying for the SDLP I mean. Obviously more choice for people like you and me is always a good thing.

  • Croiteir

    I cannot see past Pat McCarthy for this seat, he has experience and he has no elected position at the present so there is not a chain reaction of co opting – he did stand and lost out. The only thing I can think which would preclude him from the position is internal rivalry.

  • I’d be surprised if Claire Hanna doesn’t replace McDonnell at Stormont. She’s the future face of the SDLP in South Belfast, so her entry to Stormont is a natural stepping stone from Belfast City Council, which should’ve already taken place to replace Conall McDevitt in 2013 instead of Fearghal McKinney.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Ask any party insider his names always comes first.

  • banana man

    the cheek of him, to carry a constituent and friends coffin…

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The problem is that co-option carries no risks, so it encourages the parties to misuse it. The most blatant abuses are coming from SF.

    I much preferred the system we used to have, where parties had to nominate two or three alternative candidates when submitting their nomination papers. At least then the electorate have visibility of who their MLA will be in the event of a resignation.

  • Granni Trixie

    Famously, Anna Lo stated that she aspired to a UI which no one in Alliance questioned even though to the Irish News it was Front page news. Come to think of it, in response to this story, several Alliance supporters and reps commented on radi she that it was a fact of life within Alliance that some took this view.

  • Kev Hughes

    I believe Kensei mentioned on Chris’ thread else where about the SDLP having to actually define itself in 2 sentences or more, something they really can’t do at the moment. Meanwhile, on my Facebook feed I saw the Craigavon branch of the SDLP complaining about their posters being taken down. In an election where the SDLP’s candidate for Upper Bann was thought to become increasingly irrelevant, somebody saw fit to post this nonsense, nothing to do with policy or vision. For me, they’re a busted flush.

  • Kevin Breslin

    He was no Gerry Fitt either.

  • Jon Hope

    That’s my point I guess. Unless they can differentiate themselves market forces will take care of that!

  • Kevin Breslin

    It didn’t benefit unionism, it benefitted unionist politicians.

    In the key seats Naomi Long and Michelle Gildernew increased their raw vote against unionist unity candidates. What unionist unity pact has done has increased and polarised the opponents of the type of union the DUP and UUP want to create.

  • scepticacademic

    McDonnell: “South Belfast is still a unionist majority constituency and I have won it against the head on three occasions”

    Is it really?

    1. Census 2011 data for Belfast South constituency: Catholic 44.0%, Protestant and other Christian 43.7%, other 2.8%, no religion 9.5% (

    2. Votes cast at 2015 GE: SDLP+SF= 14,962; DUP+UUP+UKIP+Con=14,685

  • Gaygael

    That’s not really an answer.
    Why do you think those particular councillors? The SDLP branch has string potential contenders for this. I’m curious why you call these two.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Balmoral ward. I’d assume you’d have to replace Claire Hanna with a Balmoral resident.

  • Zig70

    Arguably the trojan horse of equality wasn’t for the unionists but more effective in stealing the sdlp’s clothes on civil rights.

  • Makhno

    She would also appear to me to be the strongest candidate, but the SDLP seem to have a history in picking wrong candidates (starting with their last three leaders and working downwards). Petty rivalries and buggins turn seem to feature here more than in other parties. If Alasdair has a major say in the pick, I’m guessing it’ll be someone who hasn’t offended him, and in politics, that doesn’t augur well for a strong advocate being selected. Watching him on the Politics Show last night, he still appears highly truculent, and doesn’t seem to realise that interviewers are supposed to be awkward ( for BBC NI read ‘slightly awkward’). He’s immediately off with the strangulated “no, sorry, sorry”, getting visibly annoyed, like someone who’s not used to being contradicted. Politics must be a nightmare for him.

  • mike

    Oh my God!!!