Northern Ireland

McDonnell may enter SDLP leadership contest

The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell is to announce within days whether he will run for the leadership of his party.

Party leader Margaret Ritchie announced on Thursday evening that she would be stepping down.

The party's deputy leader Patsy McGlone has already said that he would run for the position.

Ms Ritchie's leadership had been under considerable pressure since the party's poor election results.

Announcing her decision, she said she did not feel it was possible to be an MP, an MLA and lead a political party.

Ms Ritchie, Mr McGlone and Dr McDonnell were all at the GAA Ulster All-Star Awards in Armagh on Thursday night.

Both Dr McDonnell and Mr McGlone paid tribute to Ms Ritchie, describing her as a dedicated and hard-working politician.

Dr McDonnell said: "If I feel that the party wants my agenda and the party is in sync with the radical ideas that I have to change the party and move it into the 21st century -- and put it back to winning elections -- then I will decide to go (for it) and that decision will be in some days time."

Image caption Dr Alasdair McDonnell could yet run for the SDLP leadership

Ms Ritchie was elected leader in January 2010, beating Dr McDonnell in a two-horse race.

She said that she did not feel it was possible to continue in all three of her current roles.

"I have been immensely proud to be leader of the SDLP and will continue as leader in order to assist the party in a smooth transition to the new leadership," she said.

"I will also be stepping down from the assembly and will start the selection process after the party conference."

Ms Ritchie said being leader of the SDLP and the MP for South Down were both all-consuming jobs.

First love

She said she had to ask herself "What is my first love in politics?"

"My first love in politics is delivering for the great people of South Down."

When Mr McGlone's challenge was first reported, Ms Ritchie said she was prepared to take on all challengers.

She said she had now reflected on that position and would also be standing down as an MLA.

"I would also assure those from South Down and throughout the north who have given me great support and encouragement that I will continue to serve the SDLP and work towards the renewal of the party and the completion of the work I have set in motion," Ms Ritchie said.

"We have had outstanding successes and I want to ensure that this work is built upon."

Ms Ritchie said she would not criticise any of her colleagues and wished whoever succeeded her all the best.

She said they would have her support so long as they served the best interests of the SDLP.

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