Two female MLAs tipped for SDLP deputy leadership post
SPECULATION is rife as to who will replace Fearghal McKinney as deputy leader of the SDLP, after losing his south Belfast assembly seat at the weekend making it impossible to stay on in the role.
Party sources confirmed on Sunday night that the former UTV journalist turned politician cannot stay on as deputy party leader despite only being elected to the post less than six months ago.
The SDLP's constitution states that to hold any leadership position a representative must be member of the parliamentary party.
Who will replace the 54-year-old is expected to be discussed when the SDLP meet this week, however, sources say following disappointing election results the party are keen to avoid an internal power struggle for the deputy post.
Two of the favourites to replace Mr McKinney are former Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon, who was elected to the assembly in north Belfast where she replaced veteran SDLP member Alban Maginness who is retiring from politics.
Another name being tipped for the post is Claire Hanna who was elected in south Belfast on the eleventh count from transfers from Mr McKinney's elimination.
Previously co-opted into south Belfast, her new mandate has strengthened her chances of rising to a leadership position.
She had taken the seat from former party leader Alasdair McDonnell when he was forced to give it up following an end to double jobbing to concentrate on his role as South Belfast MP.
One of the party's most polished media performers, the 35-year-old daughter of SDLP stalwart Carmel Hanna has has a high profile.
Speaking after the loss of the SDLP's second seat in south Belfast Ms Hanna said she was "really disappointed" adding that it has "always been a knife-edge"..
"While it hasn't been a fabulous election, the team we have got going forward has got experience and integrity", she said.
The party will begins talks for the programme for government this week, during which it will be debated whether or not they now go into opposition in the assembly.
The replacement for Mr McKinney is also expected to be discussed with hope that a single candidate can be agreed on to save yet another public battle for he post.
Colum Eastwood told The Irish News on Sunday: "We're not in any rush to address that issue because at the moment we're focused on the programme for government."