SDLP to select Durkan successor

The SDLP will select a new party leader today after Mark Durkan stepped down following eight years in the post.

The outcome of the leadership battle between Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie and South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell will be known this afternoon.

Yesterday Mr Durkan used an emotional farewell speech to colleagues to insist that while his party was central to ending the Troubles, it remained vital to building a new future for all.

The Foyle MP told his party conference in Newcastle, Co Down, the power-sharing government was being mismanaged by the DUP and Sinn Féin, while the scandal over MPs expenses eroded public confidence in politicians.

“People are crying out for change. Fed up with all the instability. Frustrated by the lack of delivery. Sceptical about more hype and spin,” he said.

"We have to persuade them that the best antidote to DUP/Sinn Féin failure is a successful SDLP. Convince them that we offer a better way forward.

“That we are not just a party of deep principle, but of clear purpose and ready service as well, a real alternative with radical ambition.”

The former finance minister in the Stormont Executive and MP and MLA for Foyle is quitting to concentrate on his role at Westminster.

Mr Durkan, 49, married to Jackie with five-year-old daughter Dearbhail, is a life-long politician and former student union leader with a commitment to social justice and tackling inequality.

He took over leadership of the party from the SDLP icon John Hume in 2001, and the two Derry men joined each other on stage yesterday, as Mr Durkan was embraced by his wife and child after his speech.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen addressed a celebration dinner last night.

Guests at the three day conference included former Secretary of State Paul Murphy, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fail’s Dermot Ahern.

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