Northern Ireland

My SDLP leadership a new era for politics - Alasdair McDonnell

Alasdair McDonnell has told his party conference that his leadership of the SDLP will signal a new era for politics in Northern Ireland.

The South Belfast MP was addressing delegates less than 24 hours after his election as leader.

In a halting speech disrupted by his annoyance with the lighting, he accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of presiding over cuts demanded by Westminster.

The two parties were "bailiffs for the absentee landlords of the Treasury".

'Energy and passion'

He said the SDLP had put too much effort into providing a "comfortable place for other others around the Good Friday Agreement" to the point where his party had become "hypnotised" by it.

"We must face up to the reality that the agreement has been left by the DUP and Sinn Fein to run out of road," Dr McDonnell added.

"In the hands of the DUP and Sinn Fein, it may provide basic political stability but it will not deliver the real progress that we want to achieve."

He also set out plans to set up a "small expert commission" which would be tasked with improving the organisation of the party.

Poking fun at the characterisation of him as a "bull in a china shop", Dr McDonnell said that he took the analogy as a "tribute to my reserves of energy and passion, tempered with wise counsel".

He added that he wanted to "smash the myth that the SDLP's fate is already sealed, that this party is somehow doomed to fail and die".

"All that is wrong with us is that we don't get enough votes - that is all," he said.

'Negative'

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said the message sent out by Mr McDonnell's speech was negative.

"The SDLP's priorities should be to work with the other parties in the Northern Executive instead of playing silly party politics with talk of smashing this or that which we have all heard before," Mr Maskey said.

"There are big issues facing people in the time ahead and all parties have recently received a fresh mandate to get on with the task of delivering.

"If the SDLP's sole preoccupation is with reclaiming lost ground then that is a futile task."

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