Difficult day for the SDLP – Matthew O’Toole

A newly elected South Belfast MLA has described a difficult day for the SDLP.

Matthew O’Toole was the final Assembly member to be elected at the Titanic Exhibition Centre late on Friday night.

He said while it felt good to be elected, it had been a tough day for his colleagues in the SDLP.

He said there had been a shift within nationalism towards Sinn Fein in response to a focus on the prospect of the party potentially topping the poll and being able to nominate a First Minister.

That would be the first nationalist or republican First Minister in the history of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr O’Toole also described a shift towards to the Alliance Party,

SDLP veteran Dolores Kelly lost her seat in Upper Bann, and there are fears over the fate of some others as the counting goes on in the Stormont election.

Dolores Kelly
Dolores Kelly has lost her seat (Liam McBurney/PA)

“It’s been a long six weeks and it’s been a tough day for people in our party but I think people in South Belfast have again endorsed progressive social democratic politics and so I’m delighted to be returned by them,” he said.

“It’s a difficult day (for the SDLP), I don’t think anyone should underplay that, this is a tough day for our party. Our party has a really proud history, we’ve got amazing activists, we’ve got people who are proud of our contribution to this island.

“We’re still in the hunt, counts are still happening but I think it is a difficult day and there are people who won’t return to Stormont that I’m very sad about.

“I think it’s been clear there was a move within nationalism towards Sinn Fein as a result of a focus on the First Minister role and I think there was also a certain move within the progressive middle ground towards the Alliance Party and that has created a challenge for us.”

Justin McNulty, the SDLP candidate elected in Newry and Armagh, admitted that his party was hoping for some “Lazarus” moments on Saturday.

He told the PA news agency in the Magherafelt count centre: “It has been a great night for the SDLP in Newry and Armagh, we have weathered the storm.

“We have taken the scenic route, but we came back with more votes than the last election so I am delighted.”

“Hope has won out.”

Asked about the SDLP results across Northern Ireland, he said: “It is looking pretty poor at this point, but some Lazarus moments may happen yet.

“We will remain hopeful.

“The tide was against us during this election but we have run a very powerfully positive campaign.”