Three in running to replace Ritchie as MLA

Three in running to replace Ritchie as MLA

16 November 2011 - by DAVID TELFORD

DOWNPATRICK councillor Colin McGrath will soon discover if he’s to take Margaret Ritchie’s South Down Assembly seat.

He is vying to succeed Miss Ritchie who is stepping down to concentrate on her MP’s duties across the constituency.

Councillor McGrath (26), is up against retired school principal Sean Rodgers (58) and businessman Connaire McGreevy (29), both Newry and Mourne councillors.

SDLP delegates across South Down meet at a special constituency council meeting on December 4 to choose Miss Ritchie’s successor.

Castlewellan councillor Eamonn O’Neill, who is a member of Down Council and Councillor McGrath’s SDLP colleague on the local authority, was linked as a possible successor to Miss Ritchie.

While councillor O’Neill has decided not to run, he has surprised some in the SDLP across the district by seconding Mr. Rodgers’ nomination to become the party’s new MLA.

Former South Down MP Eddie McGrady has nominated councillor McGrath who is viewed as one of the SDLP’s rising stars.

A senior SDLP source said if councillor McGrath fails to succeed Miss Ritchie, a large chunk of the constituency will effectively not have any nationalist representation.

“The party already has  Karen McKevitt in Newry.

Both Mr. Rodgers and Mr.  McGreevy are from the  southern end of the constituency and if one of them was to be successful at the forthcoming selection convention, it wouldn’t be good for SDLP voters, supporters and delegates across Down District.”

The source added: “Our party has decided to look for new young candidates and I believe councillor McGrath fits the bill. He is very knowledgeable, extremely articulate, but he does face a battle to succeed Margaret.

“All three candidates have a chance of winning and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top after delegates have voted.”