Northern Ireland news

Two former SDLP leaders turned life peers have an unexpected link to a tiny stretch of land in Co Down

Margaret Ritchie. Picture by Mal McCann

TWO former SDLP leaders turned life peers have an unexpected link to a tiny stretch of land in Co Down.

Margaret Ritchie and Gerry Fitt are already part of a band of just two as the only Northern Ireland nationalists elected representatives to take a seat in the House of Lords.

The former South Down MP, who had to resign from the party to take up the seat, said yesterday she is "delighted" by the British honour, thanking "those individuals who have recommended me for appointment".

Following treatment for breast cancer, the 61-year-old said she is "feeling a lot better now" and looking forward to returning to politics.

"In the absence of the lack of a local functioning government at Stormont, and the dearth of adequate representation in parliament for the population in Northern Ireland this will give me an opportunity to speak up for the people... regarding the ongoing impact of Brexit on our society and community."

Ms Ritchie said she will be raising "the economy and job creation, trade tariffs, agri food issues and health matters", as well as "the need to introduce a lower VAT on tourism products, compensation for the victims of contaminated bloods, child and family poverty, taxation, welfare reform/benefit issues".

"There is a clear priority to press the government of the need for Northern Ireland to remain within the European Union, and of course to press for the retention of the backstop," she added.

"I look forward to taking my seat at an early date representing the views of local people in the House of Lords as one party from Northern Ireland refuses to take their seats in the Commons and another party simply represents the `leave' side on the Brexit issue in the Commons and Lords which is not reflective of the majority viewpoint."

Soon to be Baroness Ritchie, she is from Annacloy in Co Down which neighbours Bell's Hill, the area Lord Fitt took his title from.

"I live a quarter of a mile from Bell's Hill," she said.

"My dad said he remembered Lord Fitt as a young fella - they were evacuated to a house at Bell's Hill during the war - although I don't know any more about why they were here."

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005-2008, "he really wanted to be known as Lord Fitt of Dock, but because of the rules he was created Baron Fitt, of Bell's Hill, from the Co Down townland where his adopted mother had loved after being evacuated from Belfast during the Second World War".

After his death a special memorial Mass was held in Crossgar, Co Down, close to Bell's Hill and where he had a holiday home near Crossgar.

Mrs Ritchie said she is hopeful to take her title from the patron saint associated with the town of Downpatrick.

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