Colum Eastwood has been elected as leader of the SDLP, becoming the third Derry man to lead the party following John Hume and Mark Durkan into the role
The 32-year-old ousted incumbent County Antrim’s Dr Alasdair McDonnell who is MP for South Belfast. The new leader won the contest by a margin of 39 votes.
As the result was announced, Eastwood supporters cheered and clapped loudly.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ just minutes after the result was declared, with the Foyle MLA taking 56 per cent of the vote, the 32-year-old said: I’m feeling delighted and honoured to be elected as leader of the SDLP. It’s a massive task. We understand the massive responsibility on our shoulders but we will work together and unite and set out a positive vision for this country and I look forward to that challenge.”
When asked what it meant for Derry, Mr Eastwood said: “I’ve always been a huge supporter of my own city and I’ll always put Derry at the top of the agenda on everything I do.”
SDLP MP Mark Durkan said the result is great for the party.
“It doesn’t mean a change in any of our principles or values but allows us to communicate those better and connect more strongly. I think it’s strong for Derry the fact we have a leader from Derry, but we have to do to make sure Derry goes forward is return a strong team in the Assembly elections next year.”
Derry and Strabane Councillor Patsy Kelly said it was the best result and hopes it unites the party.
Throughout the short leadership campaign, Alasdair McDonnell remained confident he would hang onto to the leadership despite Colum Eastwood receiving the backing of big party names such as Mark Durkan, Brid Rogers, Seamus Mallon, Denis Haughey and Pat Hume – wife of former party leader John.
Alasdair McDonnell had previously described Colum Eastwood’s challenge to the leadership as “premature”.
However, Colum Eastwood said a change of leadership was badly needed, that he was “fed up with the party losing” and he was the right man to get the party back on track.