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Defeated leadership challenger ‘takes heart’ from strong vote

Success of South Belfast candidates ‘testament to strength in constituency’

By Scott Jamison

The South Belfast MLA who finished runner-up to new SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell in the party’s leadership contest said he believes having a local representative in charge will be a benefit to people in this constituency.

Conall McDevitt, who polled 152 votes to McDonnell’s 188 in the third round of voting, said although he was disappointed to lose, he took heart from his strong vote.

The contest took place at last weekend’s SDLP conference in Shaws Bridge and saw the other contenders – West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood and Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone – eliminated in the first two rounds of voting.

Although he did not win, Mr McDevitt said he thought South Belfast residents would still profit from the result.

“That South Belfast should have had the winner and runner-up in the contest is a great testament to the strength of the party in the constituency and the calibre of representatives here.

“We have people who now represent the whole spectrum of opinion in the SDLP in the one constituency and I look forward to working with Alasdair to make the party stronger and build on the reconnection that has taken place over the past six weeks as we have gone around the north on hustings.”

Mr McDevitt added he was heartened at his personal vote in the contest.

“I was personally disappointed to not win but at the same time I was very encouraged at securing such a strong vote.

“I think it sends a very clear signal to everyone in the SDLP that there is a clear mood to change and great determination to invest in a new generation of leaders within the party.

“It was a very close margin of victory, similar to the previous leadership contest, and that is something I take great personal pride in.

“We will use that to bring the party together and build in a way that ensures we go forward stronger than we were before the contest started.”

When pressed by the SBN, Mr McDevitt also refused to rule out running again for the party leadership again in future.

“I’ll always be available to do what the SDLP asks of me,” he said. “It’s a great privilege to represent South Belfast – I certainly enjoy doing that and intend to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.”

Dr McDonnell said his victory was the start of the road back to electoral success for the SDLP.

“There is an absolute determination that this party will survive and the values on which the SDLP was founded will be carried forward into a new generation and into a new Ireland.

“I would like to smash the myth that the SDLP’s fate is already sealed and this party is somehow doomed to fail and die. All that is wrong with us is we don’t get enough votes.

“It is electoral efficiency that I have in mind as the appropriate benchmark. We are going to look to our friends for help in making a better organisation and the SDLP still has many friends.”


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