Difficult day for the SDLP – Matthew O’Toole

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

Matthew O’Toole was the last Assembly member to be elected at the Titanic Exhibition Center late Friday night.

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

It’s a difficult day (for the SDLP), I don’t think anyone should underestimate this, this is a difficult day for our party

Matthew O’Toole MLA

He said there has been a shift in nationalism towards Sinn Fein in response to the 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 move to the Alliance party,

SDLP veteran Dolores Kelly lost her Upper Bann seat and there are fears for the fate of some others as the count in the Stormont election continues.

Dolores Kelly lost her seat (Liam McBurney/PA)

(PA Archive)

“It’s been a long six weeks and it’s been a tough day for people in our party but I think the people of south Belfast have gotten back to supporting progressive social democratic politics and so I’m happy to have come back from them,” he said .

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

“We’re still hunting, counts are still going on but I think it’s a difficult day and there are people who won’t be returning to Stormont, which I’m very sad about.

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

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

He told the PA news agency at the Magherafelt Count Center: “It’s been a great night for the SDLP in Newry and Armagh, we weathered the storm.

“We took the scenic route but we came back with more votes than last election so I’m pleased.”

“Hope has triumphed”

When asked about SDLP results across Northern Ireland, he said: “It’s looking pretty bad at this point, but some Lazarus moments can still happen.

“We remain hopeful.

“The tide was against us during this election, but we ran a very strong positive campaign.” Difficult day for the SDLP – Matthew O’Toole

Bobby Allyn

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