West Tyrone selection row rocks SDLP
The SDLP leadership is facing dissent in West Tyrone with dozens of party activists refusing to recognise the candidate chosen to contest the next Stormont election.
Four of the party's five councillors in the constituency are among those who boycotted Thursday night's selection convention where Daniel McCrossan was picked to run in the forthcoming poll.
Mr McCrossan works in the office of West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne and was the SDLP candidate in May's Westminster election.
But it appears the 27-year-old law graduate's nomination and subsequent selection is not universally popular with party members in the constituency.
The decision to overlook councillors from Omagh and Strabane while running only a single candidate in the predominantly nationalist constituency is the latest in a series of rows to beset the SDLP in West Tyrone.
Dozens of activists stayed away from Thursday night's selection convention and penned an angry letter to the SDLP's chairman and general secretary outlining the reasons for their boycott.
Among those who stayed away were councillors Jo Deehan and Patsy Kelly, both of whose names had been put forward as prospective candidates.
The boycott is supported by fellow SDLP councillors Joanne Donnelly and Rosemarie Shields, as well as the chairman and a number of members of the party's constituency council. West Tyrone councillor Mary Garrity told The Irish News that she did not attend the selection convention due to health reasons.
The letter's 40 signatories say they will not be bound by the outcome of the selection convention and they call for the selection of candidates who reflect the constituency's "geographical spread and gender balance".
The letter also calls for a "full and thorough" investigation into grievances raised by activists in West Tyrone and disciplinary action against anybody found guilty of misconduct.
"It is with deep regret that we take this course of action but we sincerely believe that we are compelled to do so in order to protect the reputation, credibility and integrity of the party in this constituency," it concludes.
A spokesman for the SDLP said any issues raised in the letter would be dealt with by the party centrally.
"The West Tyrone selection convention was well attended as three party representatives had put themselves forward for the contest," the spokesman said.
"Daniel McCrossan was overwhelmingly elected by almost unanimous vote. This is to be endorsed by the party's executive committee."
Mr McCrossan was last night unavailable for comment, however, in a statement issued by the party he said: "It's a great honour to be selected by party members in West Tyrone to represent the SDLP in the next assembly elections.
"I was deeply humbled when I was selected to contest the Westminster election and again I want to thank party members for their faith in me."
The row in West Tyrone will prove an unwelcome distraction for SDLP Alasdair McDonnell, who is facing a leadership challenge from Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood.
Dr McDonnell is understood to support Mr McCrossan's selection, which was carried at Thursday night's meeting by 83 votes to one.