Earlier today I announced my intention to stand down from the Northern Ireland Assembly in the summer. A selection convention which will determine the person to be co-opted into my South Belfast seat will take place on June 25th 2015.
There are many conflicting emotions surrounding my decision to stand down as MLA for south Belfast. I have spent my entire career here first as a GP with my practice on the Ormeau Road and then as an elected representative. I have held that position with immense pride since 1998 and over the past seventeen years I have been able to provide help and assistance to thousands of people who have called on me.
For the past ten years I have also been their MP and after I was re-elected last month I made the decision to stand down from the Assembly to continue to represent South Belfast at Westminster. It is now more critical than ever before that I stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow SDLP MPs to resist the onslaught of the Tory government.
We face billions of pounds in further austerity measures to be announced in the Chancellor’s Emergency Budget on July 8th as well as a challenge to our valuable relationship with Europe through the referendum. The SDLP will work to protect people in the north from the consequences of those moves.
That is why I am moving now to allow the party to select the two candidates that will stand in South Belfast in the Assembly Elections in May 2016.
I am gratified to see a wealth of talent evolve in the constituency, reflecting the development of the party right across the north. That is something I have given particular focus to during my leadership and I know whoever is co-opted into my seat will be an excellent representative for all the people in south Belfast.
I firmly believe that the SDLP is the only party that is actively representing everyone right across the north. We believe it is only by working with the other parties for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland that we can make this place work, and we are determined to see that happen. As leader of the SDLP, I believe this is a particularly exciting stage for the party and I look forward to taking us into the Assembly elections next year.”