Assembly Election

SDLP founder backs McCrossan in West Tyrone

A decision by the SDLP to stand Daniel McCrossan in West Tyrone has caused a bitter rift within the party
Connla Young

A FOUNDING member of the SDLP has waded into a bitter row over the party’s decision to run Daniel McCrossan as its assembly candidate in West Tyrone.

Ivan Cooper, who was also a leading figure in the Civil Rights Association, last night gave his backing to the controversial candidate.

Independent assembly candidate Patsy Kelly, who resigned form the SDLP last month, last night voiced "surprise" at Mr Cooper's intervention.

At least seven members of the SDLP have resigned from the party in West Tyrone over a decision to put Mr McCrossan’s name on the ballot paper despite local concerns.

The 27-year-old was selected last December and subsequently co-opted to the assembly to replace Joe Byrne.

A total of 25 councillors, officials and party workers are understood to have resigned from the party in recent weeks.

Three SDLP councillors have also resigned including Omagh council vice-chair Dr Josephine Deehan, Omagh councillor Joanne Donnelly and Derry and Strabane councillor Patsy Kelly.

Both Dr Deehan and Mr Kelly are standing as independent candidates in this week’s assembly election.

The rift in West Tyrone has now drawn in other senior figures linked to the party.

In a statement Mr Cooper last night praised SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and spoke of his his pride “that his vision is so clearly to enhance our society for those who will follow him”.

“I see that same passion in Daniel McCrossan in West Tyrone,” he said.

“Few can inspire the pathos and the drive that he imparts.

“And as part of a new emerging generation of leaders in the SDLP, I have no doubt that he will make this mark in Strabane, Omagh and across this constituency.”

Mr Cooper said he and former party leaders John Hume and Austin Currie stood with other SDLP members to “build a better society for our children than that which we endured”.

“Those seeking to wreck and ruin McCrossan’s chances have no vision except for their own petty grievances which have blinded them,” he said.

“ Eastwood, McCrossan and others are the inheritors of our legacy and I’m proud that at least the party we gave so much to has found it’s belief and it’s vision again.”

Patsy Kelly was disciplined by his former party twice in the last year as the dispute over Mr McCrossan gathered pace.

The former SDLP man last night said he was "surprised" that Mr Cooper has chosen to get involved in the row.

"Everyone is surprised that Ivan got involved in something like that," he said.

"The SDLP team in West Tyrone is desperate because the seat is under threat because Dr Josephine and myself are standing."

Mr Kelly stood by his decision to resign.

“We stand for what’s right and not what’s wrong,” he said.

“I stood up for what’s right and got harassed and bullied for that.

“They disciplined me because I asked for a woman to be put on the ticket.”

“I am happy and very proud of what I did and I am getting a good response because I stood up for my principles.”

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Assembly Election