Northern Ireland

Colum Eastwood considered quitting after losing all SDLP MPs

Colum Eastwood
Image caption Colum Eastwood said he decided to stay on as SDLP leader after many messages of support

The SDLP leader has revealed for the first time that he considered quitting after the party lost all its MPs in the general election earlier this month.

Colum Eastwood told the BBC's Inside Politics Programme he decided to stay on after receiving messages of support from inside and outside the party.

He also spoke for the first time about three SDLP councillors who quit after ignoring party instructions to condemn harassment by anti-abortion activists.

He said they "embarrassed" the SDLP.

Bitter blow

Mr Eastwood also rejected accusations that he showed a "lack of leadership" in not meeting the councillors before they resigned.

Reflecting on the party's performance in the Westminster election earlier this month, the SDLP leader said it was a bitter blow to lose "three political giants" in Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell.

The former MPs lost their seats in the 8 June poll, wiping out SDLP representation in the House of Commons.

Asked if he thought about stepping down as leader, Mr Eastwood said: "I don't think you can have an election like that and not think about those things.

"But then, you have to come to a decision on what's best for the future and my view is that I have a role to play and the SDLP has a role to play."

He added: "I obviously considered if that was the right thing for the party and the country.

"I came to the conclusion after many, many people contacted me both inside and outside the party to say 'keep going'."

Image caption Mr Eastwood looked emotional during a BBC interview on the night of the election results

The SDLP leader was under pressure again this week when he was heavily criticised by three councillors in Belfast who quit the party.

Former Lord Mayor Pat Convery and councillors Declan Boyle and Kate Mullan did not support the party line in condemning the harassment of women by anti-abortion activists outside a Belfast clinic.

The trio abstained in a council vote in April and were then suspended by the SDLP.

They have claimed they were "treated with disrespect" by the party.

They also accused Mr Eastwood of showing a "lack of leadership" by refusing to meet them.

But the SDLP leader hit back, claiming the three councillors had "embarrassed themselves and the party" by falling into "a trap laid for them by political opponents".

"I regret that people who asked for political direction were offered it and then refused to take it," said Mr Eastwood.

"I regret the fact that they fell into the trap laid for them by our political opponents and ended up in a situation where they were embarrassed and the party was embarrassed.

"People need to understand - if you are part of a political party, we have to act as one and we have to show unity and discipline and that's the kind of party I want to lead."