As Colum Eastwood walked into the conference room just minutes before the leadership result was announced, a huge cheer went up from his supporters.
Among them, SDLP MP and former party leader Mark Durkan who had publicly declared his support for the Foyle MLA last month.
“It doesn’t mean a change in any of our principles or values, but it 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 what we have to do to make sure Derry goes forward is return a strong team in the Assembly elections next year,” said Mr Durkan.
Former SDLP deputy Leader Seamus Mallon said: “I look upon it as a change for the better for our party. Momentum now is the crucial thing. It’s up to us now to create the momentum.”
East Derry MLA John Dallat said: “I am absolutey delighted. We can put the lights back on again. The SDLP is moving forward in a united way that I haven’t seen before. We are going out now with the batteries charged to deliver the message that was kept too quiet for too long.”
A number of Derry City and Strabane councillors present expressed their joy at the result.
Councillor Brian Tierney said: “I work with Colum day and daily in his constituency office and I know how capable he is and how driven he is, and I am really excited about the time ahead we have as a party.”
We can put the lights back on again. The SDLP is moving forward in a united way that I haven’t seen beforeSDLP MLA John Dallat
Colr. Angela Dobbins said: “It’s the right result for the party. Alasdair has given given every fibre in his body and worked hard for the party, but we need someone a bit more vibrant and with more energy to push us on.”
Colr. Patsy Kelly said: “That’s the result we wanted. It was the best result and, going forward, hopefully Colum will now unite the party. A brilliant result.”
Colr. Martin Reilly said: “It’s a brilliant result for the party and gives us renewed ambition and renewed invigoration to go out to the voters in advance of the Assembly elections and tell them how the SDLP will change Northern Ireland for the better and be an alternative to this stagnation of DUP/Sinn Fein government.”
Causeway SDLP Colr. Orla Beattie said: “I think the party made the right decsion and, even just after the announcement, the atmosphere is electric. It bodes well for the future of the party.”