Fresh faces team up with SDLP ‘old hand’

The SDLP’s new Foyle assemblymen are confident they can help secure big wins for the city region with the help of Stormont “old hand” Pat Ramsey.

The fresh faces on the SDLP’s Derry assembly team, Colum Eastwood and Mark H Durkan, are eager to take their places at Stormont alongside the veteran assemblyman.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ yesterday, 28 year-old Mr Eastwood - who is Derry’s youngest ever Mayor and now the city’s youngest ever MLA - said the team was ready to provide a “strong and loud voice” for Foyle.

“We did a lot of hard work and had a very big campaign with a lot of young people involved who are full of energy and enthusiasm - we have to ensure we spread that around.

“We have a very strong team with a good mixture of youth and experience and we all work well together,” he said.

For Mr Eastwood 2010-2011 has been a “massive year”.

“For me there is no greater honour than to represent Derry as first citizen and now it’s very humbling to be elected by the people of Derry to represent them at Stormont. I have no doubt it will be a tough job but it will be a very important job for the city - Derry has not had its fair share of jobs, investment and in the development of infrastructure.

“I will be doing my best, along with my colleagues, to be a very strong and loud voice for the city.”

Mr Ramsey, who was previously elected to the assembly in 2003 and 2007, pledged to give every support to the Stormont newcomers.

“I’ll be seen as the old hand now I suppose,” he said.

Mr Ramsey said his goal for the coming term was to continue to unite Derry’s parliamentarians to ensure the best for the city “as was the case in the recent lobby over the proposed cancer centre at Altnagelvin”.

“I want to reassure the people of the city that there will be a unified voice from the city and that I am very committed to that. Derry has a much stronger voice when we are all united - it has worked well in the past in terms of getting access to ministers as they are less likely to refuse meetings when their is a single cross party voice.”

Mr Ramsey highlighted the planned radiotherapy centre and the expansion of Magee universities as his top priorities for Derry in the new term.

He also paid tribute to the “tremendous support” the SDLP had received in Derry.

“Compared to the rest of Northern Ireland we have held our own in this constituency.

Having run four candidates we knew there had to be one faller but we still held our vote here and that’s despite losing Banagher and Claudy from the constituency.”

Newcomer Mark H Durkan plans to continue to deliver the Durkan brand at Stormont following in the footsteps of his uncle Mark, former Deputy First Minister and Finance Minister.

“It is a big step up but I’m prepared for it.

“I have plenty of experience working with Mary [Bradley], Pat [Ramsey], and Mark so I won’t have far to look for advice and guidance.

“I’m going to take my hard work ethic to Stormont and tackle the red tape and beauracracy,” he added.

Mr Durkan did admit that his uncle’s political profile may have played a part in his success at the polls.

“I’m not naïve enough to think the name did not help but it is also the name of my brother, sisters, mother and father, not just my uncle.

“The Durkan brand has worked for the SDLP but that is because it has worked for the people.

“I also got transfers from Martina Anderson and Willie Hay which is attributable to my hard work,” he said.