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McDevitt will return to public life says SDLP's newest MLA

John Manley Political Reporter j.manley@irishnews.com

Newly-selected south Belfast MlAFearghal McKinney has predicted a return to public life for his predecessor conall Mcdevitt.

On thursday night Mr McKinney beat Belfast councillor claire Hanna in the race to be co-opted by the sdlP into the stormont assembly. the pair contested the seat after Mr Mcdevitt, right, resigned earlier this month over revelations that he failed to declare a £7000 payment from the Belfast PR firm where he worked before becoming an MlA.

Mr McKinney, who was widely regarded as sdlP leader Alasdair Mcdonnell's favoured candidate, won the selection vote by 113 votes to 69. He is expected to sworn-in at stormont on Monday morning as one of the party's 12 MlAs. speaking to The Irish News yesterday, the former UtV journalist said he believed the sdlP was back in the ascendency following a decade of electoral decline.

Mr McKinney said that since his defeat in the 2011 general election in Fermanagh-south tyrone, he had been working "in the background" to rebuild the party.

He pointed to expanded party branches in toome and Randalstown as an illustration of the sdlP's resurgence. "It's all about rebuilding and reenergising the sdlP and I believe it's beginning to work," he said. the former political correspondent said people were becoming frustrated with sinn Fein and the dUP.

"If we weren't experiencing problems and divisions that the executive could solve we wouldn't have [Richard] Haass coming next week," he said. the newly-selected MlA said the solutions that would emerge from the roundtable talks would be "sdlP answers". "Reconciliation, parity of esteem and social justice are the types of things that will resolve the issues around Haass -- and those are sdlP ideas," he said. "the problem parties have sewn division into the very fabric of our society and we're going to have to spend significant time and effort unravelling that and pulling those stitches out."

He said the stormont institutions needed to return to the "principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement".

Mr McKinney said he would seek to retain the south Belfast seat, where his predecessor was elected in 2011 short of a quota, by "hard work".

He described Mr Mcdevitt as a "hard act to follow" and did not rule out a return to politics for the man once widely-tipped to succeed dr Mcdonnell. "I think conall will have a role in public life at some stage in the future," he said. "He had his own private reasons for what he did and we will leave it at that."

Mr McKinney refuted the suggestion that the sdlP had been damaged by Mr Mcdevitt's resignation and the subsequent selection contest, which it is claimed exposed party divisions in south Belfast. derry-born Mr McKinney becomes the second former UtV journalist after Mike Nesbitt to enter the assembly.

Raised in enniskillen, the 51-year-old left the Belfast-based broadcaster in 2009 and joined the sdlP soon afterwards.

Mr McKinney stood as the sdlP's Fermanagh south tyrone candidate in the 2010 General election, where he received 3,574 votes -- or 7.6 per cent.

In a bitter fought election, sitting sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew topped the poll with 21,304 votes, just four more than unionist unity candidate Rodney connor.

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