Northern Ireland

SDLP MP McDonnell pressed to run for leader role

Dr Alasdair McDonnell
Image caption Dr Alasdair McDonnell said speculation was premature

Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP MP for South Belfast, is believed to be coming under pressure from sections of his party to stand for the leadership.

But he said speculation about his intentions was premature and would not comment further.

Patsy McGlone, the SDLP deputy leader, is challenging the current leader Margaret Ritchie.

He insisted he had widespread support despite a muted response from key party figures.

However Dr McDonnell who came close to beating Ms Ritchie has not given his allegiance to Mr McGlone at this stage.

Ms Ritchie has made it clear that she intends to defend her position.

But MLAs, many of whom are on holiday, have not rushed to her defence at this stage. The minister for social development, Alex Attwood, said he was backing the leader.

South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt, when pressed on live radio, said he supported his leader. But he also made it clear that the time for debate would be next month when the formal nomination process is due to take place.

There has been growing discontent in SDLP ranks since the party lost two assembly seats in May's elections.

Ms Ritchie replaced Mark Durkan as leader at the start of 2010.

She defeated Dr McDonnell by 35 votes.

The new leader overcame her first major challenge at the Westminster election of 2010.

She successfully defended the South Down seat, previously held by her mentor Eddie McGrady, and the party retained its other two Westminster seats.

However, during this spring's Assembly election campaign, Ms Ritchie's style and media performances came in for some criticism.

The divide between Ms Ritchie and her deputy Mr McGlone became clear when she passed him over for a ministerial job and he refused her offer of a Stormont committee chairmanship.

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