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SDLP break even in assembly election

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with wife Rachael and daughter Rosa last week
Connla Young

The performance of the SDLP in last week’s assembly election should cement the position of leader Colum Eastwood.

The party’s haul of 12 seats will be seen as a decent result in the face of the electoral onslaught from Sinn Féin across the north.

While it didn’t manage to add to its number of representatives a Stormont, it retained its 12 seats while the assembly dropped from 118 to 90 members.

Mr Eastwood will seek to establish why his party failed to make gains in light of the anti-DUP backlash from nationalists even though it emerged from the election as the north’s third largest party.

While the party will take some consolation from its performance, the margins between success and failure were tight.

Had it not been for a nail biting early morning victory secured by John Dallat in east Derry and an unforeseen success for Pat Catney in Lagan Valley the picture could have been very different for Mr Eastwood.

Mr Dallat saw off a challenge from former SDLP colleague Gerry Mullan, who ran as an independent after being deselected by the party, to reclaim a seat he held until 2016.

Mr Eastwood will undoubtedly take satisfaction from the party’s decision to deselect Mr Mullan.

By the same token he may regret its failure to move earlier in west Belfast when it became increasingly clear that Alex Attwood could struggle to hold on to the party's only seat there.

He will also rue being eclipsed by Sinn Féin in key nationalist areas like Foyle and south Down.

The dramatic return to the assembly of Dolores Kelly, who lost her seat last year, will further bolster Mr Eastwood’s position.

Mrs Kelly was a strong supporter of the Derry man when he seized control of the party in 2015.

Seats: 12 (no change)

First preference votes: 95,958

Share of the vote 11.9 percent down 0.1 percentage point

Verdict: Relieved


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