THERE are mixed views within SDLP members in Fermanagh with newly re-elected MP, Alasdair McDonnell insisting on holding on to the leadership despite the fact he will be giving up his seat in the Assembly and spending more time at Westminster.
Party grandees like Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers have made their views known that the leader should be based here.
Within Fermanagh, his critics within the SDLP were unmoved by the weekend’s decision of the party executive to back his leadership.
Retired Fermanagh councillor, John O’Kane told the Herald that while the leader was ‘a good friend to Fermanagh’, Dr McDonnell presented a poor ‘television image’.
“You expect a leader of a party to perform well on television and to take part in debates and so on, but Alasdair does not rate terribly highly on that score.”
By contrast, the party’s defeated candidate in the recent Westminster elections, John Coyle said he was ‘fully behind’ the leader.
“He has been a great support to me, he was in contact with me maybe three and four times a week, ringing to make sure that everything was grand.”
The party’s recently elected Fermanagh and Omagh Council member, Richard McPhillips suggested that ‘it’s best to let things settle down’.
“At this point in time he’s the leader so, therefore, you give loyalty to the leadership.
“Yes, he’s under pressure from all sides, like he was when he fought for the seat in South Belfast. He retained the seat, which in itself was a good victory.
“His Assembly position now needs to be sorted out and sorted out fairly quickly and, if that was done, then we could start sorting out the leadership and various other issues within the party.”
But, a seasoned party member in Fermanagh – who asked not be named – said the drop in the SDLP vote had worsened since Alasdair McDonnell took over as leader.
“Yes, the vote dropped because of the politically changed landscape, but I do believe there is still a very important role for the party.
“There is a large swathe of nationalists who, come voting time, are prepared to stay at home so, quite clearly, the electorate is not happy with either us or Sinn Fein.
“I think the (SDLP) executive made the wrong decision.
“The position is that Alasdair has now taken the party through three elections and they have all been poor elections.”
But, the leader can rely on one party member for support.
Enniskillen-born Fearghal McKinney, who is the SDLP’s election director, and who sits on the 20-member party executive, said his leader had received resounding support.
“Alasdair takes the long view. He wants to see the SDLP for the 21st century and we believe we at the point of his leadership where we’re seeing green shoots.”
He referred to the party’s performances in various constituencies and the healthy mix of youth and women among its 66 councillors elected last year.
“There is a good picture to be told. We’re halfway through and, yes, some people are getting the jitters but Alasdair recognises the project is not yet complete, but it must be completed.”
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