Political news

Mark Durkan move a bolt out of the blue in SDLP heartland of Derry

Mark Durkan with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood after he lost his Westminster seat at the 2017 general election. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

NEWS of Mark Durkan's switch south to contest the European Parliament elections for Fine Gael came like a bolt out of the blue in the SDLP's Derry heartland.

But while party veterans appeared to have no advance knowledge of the move, there had been indications of a growing relationship between Mr Durkan and Fine Gael.

Leo Varadkar has made an unusually high number of visits to the city in the last six months and was guest speaker at a St Columb’s College past pupils’ dinner in October at which Mr Durkan won the school’s “alumnus illustrissimus” award.

Former SDLP assembly member Mary Bradley said she was “stunned” by yesterday's news and Mr Durkan’s move would be a huge loss to the party.

Analysis: Mark Durkan's Fine Gael move is bad news for SDLP and Colum Eastwood

“Mark’s ambition was always to be a good politician but I think the way this has been done is very worrying. Mark is a first-class politician and will benefit any party he is involved in but we need him now more than ever,” she said.

Former SDLP director of communications Ruairi O’Kane also said Mr Durkan’s departure is a huge blow for the party both in Derry and across the north.

“It must be a total shock for the party and the party leadership. Mark was SDLP to his core and this is a big surprise; no-one saw it coming," he said.

“Mark is a clever guy and will know how this move will be perceived. I don’t know what his views on the merger with Fianna Fáil were but he will now be running against a Fianna Fáil opponent that the SDLP will be supporting."

Derry independent councillor Sean Carr, who formerly represented the SDLP, said most people had believed Mr Durkan was still controlling the party from behind the scenes.

“I’ve been talking to ordinary members and most actually believed he was behind the move towards Fianna Fail but they’re absolutely shocked now,” he said.

Meanwhile, while also expressing shock, party founding member Ivan Cooper said he believed Mr Durkan’s move was the correct one.

He said he did not agree with the SDLP’s new relationship with Fianna Fail.

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