Northern Ireland Election 2016

SDLP: Councillors Patsy Kelly and Josephine Deehan resign from party

Patsy Kelly and Josephine Deehan
Image caption Both councillors confirmed their resignation on Tuesday

Two SDLP councillors have resigned from the party citing "pressure" from supporters.

In a statement on Tuesday, Josephine Deehan and Patsy Kelly said they would stand in the 5 May assembly election as independent social democrats.

They said supporters feel the party is out of touch. Both are candidates in the West Tyrone constituency.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was a result of a high number of people wanting to stand for the party.

The resignations are seen as the first test of Mr Eastwood's leadership.

He became leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in November.

He defeated Dr Alasdair McDonnell in a vote at the party's annual conference in Armagh by 172 votes to 133.

Ms Deehan, who has been a member of the party for 15 years, highlighted a lack of female candidates as "an unacceptable state of affairs."

"Despite the success of four SDLP women councillors in Omagh there is not one woman candidate on the SDLP election ticket west of the Bann in these forthcoming elections," she said.

Patsy Kelly, a councillor for five years, objected to what he called "career politicians".

"With the advent of the assembly we have seen the arrival of career politicians whose priorities are self advancement and self perpetuation rather than the daily struggles of ordinary people and the hardships they face," Mr Kelly said.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Colum Eastwood denied he faced an internal rebellion

Mr Eastwood rejected charges of cronyism, but admitted there are ongoing issues in the West Tyrone constituency.

"Of course, we've got some problems, but I think that comes from a place where lots of people seem to want to run for the SDLP in this election, I think that's a good thing," he said.

"I think people are convinced that we are a party of change, that's why Daniel McCrossan is our candidate in West Tyrone.

"He's a fantastic new candidate with new energy and new ideas."

Mr Eastwood also addressed the lack of female SDLP candidates in West Tyrone, compared to the number of women councillors.

"We have one candidate in the constituency, we have female candidates right across the north and they are all very, very good candidates and I look forward to them being elected," he said.

Mr McCrossan did not address the councillors' criticism directly, but he was applauded by other SDLP members when he spoke at a party event in Belfast on Tuesday.