SDLP leader resists calls to stand down

Dr Alasdair McDonnell says he ‘will win’ if challenged

File photograph of SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell. Photograph: PA

File photograph of SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell. Photograph: PA

 

Dr Alasdair McDonnell, after holding on to his South Belfast seat in the Westminster elections, is now having to battle to hold on to his position as leader of the SDLP.

So far no one has come forward within the party to challenge him directly but some senior figures including two party grandees have urged him to step down as leader and to concentrate on his Westminster duties.

“I’m not going to run away from a task half done,” said Dr McDonnell yesterday, defiantly adding that he would defeat anyone who challenged him.

Former SDLP Deputy First Minister and deputy leader Seamus Mallon and former Minister of Agriculture Brid Rodgers have advised Dr McDonnell to stand down, making their calls in the nationalist Irish News newspaper.

This pressure on Dr McDonnell comes as no surprise as senior figures privately signalled in advance of the election that after the Westminster poll attempts would be made to persuade him to stand down as leader. Failing that he would face a challenger, they said.

Dr McDonnell had quite a successful election as leader, with the SDLP holding on to its three seats in South Belfast, Foyle and South Down although its vote was down by 2.6 per cent.

Senior party members had hoped that having held onto his seat that Dr McDonnell would quit his Assembly seat in favour of Westminster, thus allowing a smooth leadership transition.

Dr McDonnell however went on the BBC’s, The View programme last night (Thurs) to insist he would resist any challenge. He said Mr Mallon was entitled to his view but he disagreed with him.

“The view I’m holding is the point of view of the grassroots and the vast majority of the SDLP who want me to finish the job. I’m not going to run away from a task half done,” said Dr McDonnell.

“The vast majority of people in the party know that it’s essential and they realise that a silly personality contest or beauty contest, for want of a better description, is not going to help the party and it’s not going to help the broader politics in Northern Ireland, ” he added.

“I will win,” said Dr McDonnell, when asked what would happen if he were challenged.