Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP candidate for South Down in the recent Westminster election, who lost her seat to Sinn Féin’s newcomer Chris Hazzard, has issued a statement.
Ms Ritchie said: “The General Election that has just taken place has produced a more polarised society throughout Northern Ireland. It is important that we as politicians work together to heal the divisions within our society and try to unite our people on this island to bring about a prosperous and more equitable society.
“In terms of South Down, I would like to thank all the people throughout the constituency, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic affiliation who pledged their support and then subsequently voted for me as well as my Election Agent, Colin McGrath and our many volunteers who undertook many campaigning tasks on my behalf.
“Our vote in South Down, a vote for reconciliation, building a shared society and representation in the constituency and in Westminster, held solid and, unfortunately, we did not retain the seat, but we will be back in future times to fight other elections in South Down.
“Whilst it is regrettable that the new MP for South Down will not be taking his seat in Westminster to:
* obtain the best possible deal out of the Brexit negotiations for South Down
* obtain a solid budget for Northern Ireland for education and health issues;
* support farmers, fishermen, local businesses, families, young and older people as our towns and rural areas and will not be able to participate in debates;
* hold the government to account through participation and scrutiny work in Select Committees
* to amend legislation
* to vote on legislation and motions including those which deal with Confidence and budgetary supply issues
* and above all to fight for a better financial deal for the people of this Constituency,
“SDLP public representatives will continue to fight for the best possible political, economic and social needs and requirements of this constituency whether in our local councils or at the NI Assembly level.
“As part of my on-going regeneration programme for South Down, I had been working on influencing the local Council on implementing the masterplans for the further regeneration of Downpatrick and the coastal towns of Newcastle, Kilkeel and Warrenpoint as well as bolstering our rural economy.
“If properly implemented that would provide a future for our young people. I want to see that work continuing and bearing fruit.
“It is vitally important that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are restored without further delay to ensure that that important regeneration work to underpin our towns and rural communities can continue.
Also, the NI Assembly, the NI Executive, the North/South Ministerial and British/Irish Councils will be able to provide political stability and delivery of all services to our local population in this constituency. That is my earnest political hope for the people of South Down and one which I will continue to work towards.”
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood Speaks After Election
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has expressed his disappointtment with the Westminster election results but said: “I want to put on record my heartfelt thanks to all the people who stood, campaigned and voted for the SDLP last Thursday.
“The result of the Westminster election was undoubtedly difficult for the SDLP but also I believe damaging for our wider politics. For the first time in generations, we have now been left with no Irish nationalist voice in Westminster.
“In Margaret Ritchie, Mark Durkan and Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP has lost three immense figures but more importantly their constituencies and Irish politics lost people who have given their entire adult lives in the pursuit of peace and progress.
“The legacy of that work endures and we feel nothing but deep, deep gratitude for all that they have given and achieved.
“The last number of elections has revealed the depth of political change occurring across these islands – therefore it is only right and natural that as a party we are up for the challenge of changing too.
“We have heard the verdict of the voters, we accept that verdict, and we now intend to listen hard to understand what has been said to us and how we can best respond.
“We will not rush into any kneejerk reactions but nor will we be slow in doing what is required.
“As a party there are no questions we will not be prepared to face. We will not shy away from attempting to provide answers to those questions – even if those answers include the unprecedented or the uncomfortable.
“I want to make clear it will not be a conversation centred solely on the future of the SDLP – it will be a conversation centred on the future of the country.
“That is our only focus because it is the ultimate point of politics – a point too often lost.
“I also want to be clear that we will not abandon the 100,000 people who continue to cast their votes for our party. Those people have a right to representation and we will not walk away from them.
“Every politician and political commentator should learn the lesson of the recent past – in politics there is no such thing as the inevitable particularly when it is so transparently failing our people.
“Northern Nationalism deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no Assembly and has now placed us at the mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories.
“In the context of Brexit, huge constitutional and economic change is working its way across both the islands of Britain and Ireland yet Northern politics is retreating into the comfort of old battles. There is no future if the North continues to be locked into a political arm wrestle which no one can win.
“The change underway in the SDLP will seek to break beyond this perpetual stalemate which offers no solutions.”