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Durkan: McDonnell must give up SDLP leadership

UNDER PRESSURE: Alasdair McDonnell at The King's Hall in Belfast last week. Inset, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has rounded on his critics insisting he would win any challenge to his leadership.

The South Belfast MP said yesterday that the "vast majority" of SDLP members want him to stay on as leader, despite calls for him to stand down.

Earlier this week former SDLP deputy leaders Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers called on Dr McDonnell to reconsider his leadership after a poor showing at the Westminister polls.

The party held on to its three Westminster seats, but its share of the vote fell by 2.6 per cent - the worst performance of the five main parties.

After his re-election Dr McDonnell said he would resign his assembly seat, but has not yet indicated exactly when that will be.

The party voted in 2010 to end double-jobbing.

Mr Mallon told The Irish News earlier this week that Dr McDonnell should resign "as soon as possible".

The SDLP leader told the BBC last night that Mr Mallon was "entitled to his point of view".

"Seamus has been around for a long time. I respect Seamus's views, I've always respected him," he said.

But he added: "I happen to have a different point of view. And the point of view I am holding is the point of view of the grassroots and the majority of the SDLP who want me to finish the job.

"I'm not going to run away from a task half-done."

Dr McDonnell said if SDLP members wanted to challenge his leadership, they could do so at the party conference in November.

"We're a democratic party. People are entitled to challenge," he said.

"There's a conference scheduled for November. I have had no word of any special conference or anything else. I will work within the democratic rules and regulations and standing orders that we have in the party, and I will win.

"Quite simply what I am doing is essential. The vast majority of the people in the party know that it's essential and they realise that a silly personality contest, or beauty contest for want of a better description, is not going to help politics...it's not going to help the party and it's not going to help the broader politics in Northern Ireland."

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