Northern Ireland news

Mark Durkan determined to contest Dublin Euro seat that may never materialise

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan has said he is determined to contest the European election. Picture by Cate McCurry/PA Wire

FORMER SDLP leader Mark Durkan has told The Irish News he is determined to contest next month's European election even though the seat he hopes to secure may not materialise.

The former Foyle MP, who last month revealed his shock decision to run as a Fine Gael candidate, is hoping to take one of four seats in the Dublin constituency.

The capital was one of two constituencies in the Republic to gain an extra MEP when 27 of the UK's European Parliament seats were redistributed because of Brexit.

However, the extension to Article 50 granted at this week's emergency EU summit means the UK is now likely to elect MEPs again on May 23 – effectively reducing Dublin's seat tally to three until Brexit goes ahead.

Fine Gael had hoped former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald would secure the first seat for the party in Dublin with Mr Durkan taking the second.

But while the UK remains in the EU, the likelihood is that Mrs Fitzgerald will be the capital's sole MEP for Leo Varadkar's party.

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Mr Durkan said that while the seat may not become available immediately, he was determined to contest the election on Sunday May 26.

"The fourth seat is on standby and I made a commitment to stand in the context of Brexit and the need to defend the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"That will only happen after Brexit and that's the basis on which I was asked to run."

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Mr Durkan's decision to run for Fine Gael means the SDLP has lost what many regard as a strong candidate to contest the expected European election in the north.

South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna has also discounted herself as a potential candidate by resigning the whip after the SDLP formalised ties with Fianna Fáil.

Both Mr Durkan and Ms Hanna would be seen as having a realistic chance of securing a European seat for the SDLP, had they stood for the party.

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said a "perfect storm of circumstances and bad planning" meant the party he once represented as a Belfast councillor would now struggle to find a candidate who could match Mr Durkan and Ms Hanna's profile.

"It's incredible that the SDLP didn't see this coming – even the Tories knew there was a strong likelihood of European elections taking place," he said.

"Mark Durkan must be kicking himself now have committed to fight a seat that may never even materialise."

Mr Feeney said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was emerging as the most likely European candidate but that he faced "humiliation" if he came fourth.

"There's definitely a potential seat for the SDLP if the right person is selected but it's a big gamble for Eastwood – this really has played out badly for him and the party," he said.

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