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SDLP grandees tell McDonnell to quit

Former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon has called for Alasdair McDonnell to resign

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell last night came under increased pressure to resign after two party grandees said it was time for him to step down.

Former deputy leaders Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers both told the Irish News that the South Belfast MP and MLA needed to consider his position immediately for the sake of the party.

Dr McDonnell confirmed at the weekend that he will resign his assembly seat because of new rules outlawing double-jobbing.

But despite the widespread view within the party that with an assembly election looming the leader should be based at Stormont, the former GP has indicated that he has no plans to relinquish the top job.

The SDLP held its three seats in last week's Westminster election but its share of the vote dropped by 2.6 per cent.

A significant number of senior party members fear the party will lose some of its 14 assembly seats next May if last week's voting patterns are repeated.

In yesterday's Irish News, SDLP veteran John Dallat called for Dr McDonnell to step down and "unblock the bottle neck" that was preventing new blood from coming through.

Last night the East Derry MLA's sentiments were echoed by two of the SDLP's most respected figures.

Former Stormont deputy first minister Seamus Mallon said Dr McDonnell should resign "as soon as possible".

"I think if he acted decisively it would be good for him and good for the party," the ex-Newry and Armagh MP said.

"The problem needs to be solved and the party has to ensure it's done in a way that ends continuing speculation – because speculation will only lead to discord."

Mr Mallon (78), who was recently honoured by the SDLP at a special dinner in Armagh, said "Alasdair knows how he can help the situation and I hope he deals with it as soon as possible".

Former agriculture minister Brid Rodgers also said the SDLP needed a "changing of the guard" and a "leader in the assembly".

"My view is that he has to go and I'd rather he went with dignity," she said.

"I think Alasdair should think about what's best for the party, as we've just come through another election where we saw a further decline in the SDLP vote."

Dr McDonnell joined the party's assembly team at Stormont yesterday to assess the general election performance.

He was expected to face a call for his resignation from Mr Dallat, but the East Derry MLA was unable to attend Stormont.

Foyle MP Mark Durkan was also absent from the crunch meeting, despite an expectation that he would attend.

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