The new leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has vowed to turn its fortunes around ahead of Northern Ireland’s 2016 Assembly elections.

South Belfast member of the British Parliament Dr Alasdair McDonnell was elected to the position of party leader on Saturday night.

He succeeds South Down MP Margaret Ritchie who stood down in September. McDonnell defeated Dubliner Conall McDevitt, deputy leader Patsy McGlone and West Belfast representative Alex Attwood in the vote.

The SDLP has fallen in popularity in recent years as Sinn Fein has cornered the nationalist vote in the North.


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McDonnell now heads a party with just one ministry and 14 seats in the Ulster Assembly compared to the 24 seats and the Deputy First Minister post it held after the first elections in 1998.

“My leadership centrally will be about putting more votes into SDLP ballot boxes and gaining more ministries in the next Assembly elections in 2016,” said McDonnell.

“I intend as far as possible to stoke the SDLP fire in every parish in the North.

“The result has been for me a truly cathartic process and one I think that has helped the party immensely. This is the proudest moment of my political life.

“I believe the hard-fought campaign between the four candidates has revved up the engine of this party.”

Ulster’s First Minister Peter Robinson wished Dr McDonnell well while Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams also congratulated him.

“I hope he will display a positive, constructive and forward-looking attitude,” said Adams.