Alasdair McDonnell has told SDLP members he “doesn’t intend to stay forever or even for a moment longer than needed to get the immediate job done”.
Speaking just hours before the leadership of the party is decided, Dr McDonnell - who is facing a challenge from Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood - told the annual party conference in Armagh, “change is coming”.
The South Belfast MP will know by 5pm today whether he will remain as leader or if 32-year-old Colum Eastwood will be the new man in charge.
Addressing delegates during the leader’s speech, Dr McDonnell said: “Generational change has been under way for some time as a look at our new councillors will prove. Generational change is making its way through this party, and eventually it will even get to me,” said Mr McDonnell. “I’m not Robert Mugabe – I don’t intend to stay forever or even for a moment longer than needed to get the immediate job done.”
Mr McDonnell also paid tribute to retiring MLAs Dominic Bradley, Joe Byrne and East Derry MLA John Dallat who he said had been “the champion of whistle blowers and those seeking justice”.
“Despite threats to his own safety John has never been afraid of speaking out and speaking up. He has served the people of East Derry in the Assembly for 18 years with distinction,” said Mr McDonnell.
The 66-year-old said 45-years after the SDLP was founded “we recognise that we do need to update, to refresh and to reach out to a whole new generation of people”.
During his hour long speech, Mr McDonnell address the current Stormont talks, and the economy, reconciliation.
Dr. McDonnell also expressed his “shock and horror” at the fatal shootings in Paris in the last twelve hours.
“There can be no justification for the despicable attacks which have claimed the lives of around 120 people. Terrorism will not defeat democracy. We stand together with the victims, their families and the people of France,” he said.