Northern Ireland news

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to take seat in House of Lords

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is to take a seat in the House of Lords
Connla Young

FORMER SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is set to take up a seat in the House of Lords.

A spokesman for the SDLP - which is opposed to members sitting in the unelected chamber - last night confirmed that the former South Down MP has resigned from the party.

Ms Ritchie follows in the footsteps of another former SDLP leader, Gerry Fitt, by taking a place in Westminster's upper house.

She will now sit as a non-affiliated peer.

Her lifetime peerage nomination was made by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

The SDLP said it wished her well.

“While we fundamentally disagree with the decision to take a seat in the House of Lords, we want to thank Margaret Ritchie for her long and faithful service to the SDLP and to Ireland,” he said.

“We have received and accepted Margaret’s resignation from the party and we wish her well.”

The spokesman added that the party refused to make nominations when asked earlier this year.

“The SDLP was approached over the summer to make nominations to the House of Lords.

“In line with our long-standing policy, the party refused to make a nomination.”

Ms Ritchie declined to comment when contacted.

Her appointment to the Lords comes after she has battled back to health following treatment for breast cancer last year.

She has kept a low profile since losing her Westminster seat to Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard in 2017.

Her political career had spanned four decades and saw her rise to lead her party between 2010-11.

The 61-year-old was first elected to the former Down District Council in 1985, later serving both as chair and vice-chair.

After being elected to the Northern Ireland assembly she was appointed social development minister in 2007 – a post she held until 2010.

In February that year she succeeded Mark Durkan as party leader and was later elected to represent her native South Down at Westminster.

In 2010 Ms Ritchie became the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a poppy during a Remembrance Sunday event.

At the time she said she hoped her decision would be seen as a gesture of "reconciliation and reaching out".

There was controversy in in 1983 when former SDLP Gerry Fitt, who at the time was not a member of the party, was appointed to the Lords after losing his House of Commons seat to Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams.

He became a hate figure for republicans and his north Belfast home was later fire bombed.

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, who is married to former SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan, accepted a peerage in 2009.

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