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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Mallon ruled out as SDLP leader
In the spotlight: (L-R) Brid Rodgers, Mark Durkan, Seamus Mallon, now ruled out and, Alban Maginness
Mallon has now ruled himself out of the running
Seamus Mallon, who was the favourite to succeed John Hume as leader of the SDLP, has ruled himself out of the contest.

The 66-year-old deputy party leader surprised supporters on Tuesday by saying he did not want his name to be put forward to replace Mr Hume, when the party chooses a new leader at its party conference in November.

He also said he felt the party should elect a new deputy leader.

The Newry and Armagh MP said: "I wish to announce that I will not be a candidate for the position of the leader of the SDLP following the decision by John Hume yesterday.

Seamus Mallon has ruled himself out of contest
Seamus Mallon has ruled himself out of contest
"I have served the party as deputy leader through very difficult times. The time is now right for change.

"It is my considered view that the party should elect a new leadership team - both the leader and deputy leader."

Following Mr Mallon's announcement, former Belfast Lord Mayor Alban Maginness has declared he will seek the deputy leadership of the party.

Alban Maginness
Alban Maginness: First to declare interest in contest
Mr Maginness has had a high profile as one of a number of politicians urging restraint during a summer of street disturbances and sectarian tension in north Belfast.

On Thursday Sean Farren, the Stormont High Education Minister, and Denis Haughey, a junior minister in the Stormont executive, also declared they would run for deputy leader.

Mr Mallon said the main factor in his decision was his age.

He said: "I want to see new people in politics and I have always tried to encourage new people into politics."

Mr Mallon added that as deputy leader of the party, he would "continue to try to secure a successful outcome to the current political impasse".

Leadership speculation

Speculation has been mounting about who will replace Mr Hume as leader, since the veteran nationalist politician and peace process architect announced on Monday he was to resign.

Mark Durkan could be strong contender
Mark Durkan could be strong contender

Mr Hume, 64, at the helm of the party since 1979, said he wanted to cut down hi workload because he had suffered from serious health problems.

The party has seven weeks to choose a successor. However, nominations must be lodged by this weekend.

BBC poll

Mr Mallon's announcement came after a BBC poll suggested he was the most popular choice to succeed Mr Hume as SDLP leader.

Eddie McGrady, South Down MP
Eddie McGrady came joint fourth with Alban Maginness in poll
The poll commissioned by the BBC's Hearts and Minds programme was conducted before Mr Hume announced he was stepping down as leader.

Out of a sample of just under 1200 people, 255 SDLP supporters were asked who they believed would be the best leader to succeed John Hume.

Mr Mallon, the deputy leader of the party, who took up the post of deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly alongside First Minister David Trimble, polled almost 42%, well ahead of possible rivals.

John Hume has said he will concentrate on his work as an MEP and MP
John Hume has said he will concentrate on his work as an MEP and MP
Mark Durkan, aged in his 40s, who has gained respect as finance minister in the Stormont executive, came next in the poll running, at just over 24%.

Agriculture minister Brid Rodgers polled almost 11.8%.

Aged in her 60s, Mrs Rodgers has also seen her profile within the party rise through her work in the assembly executive.

She was widely praised for her handling of the foot-and-mouth farming crisis.

However, she came an embarrassing third behind Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty and Ulster Unionist William Thompson when the SDLP 'parachuted' her into the West Tyrone constituency to fight the June general election.

Alban Maginness and South Down MP Eddie McGrady both polled 7.8% in the BBC survey.

Alex Attwood: SDLP policing spokesman
Alex Attwood: SDLP policing spokesman

SDLP chairman and policing spokesman Alex Attwood scored 5.1%.

Just under 2% of respondents named someone else.

Mr Hume's resignation came at another crucial phase in the Northern Ireland peace process, with just days to go before the latest deadline for the parties to agree on how to resolve the issues of decommissioning, policing and demilitarisation - 22 September.

The question on who would be the best party leader to succeed John Hume was one of a number on the current state of the political process for Hearts and Minds.

Full details of the poll will be reported here on News Online from Thursday morning and will be broadcast on Hearts and Minds on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Thursday evening.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy:
"The last thing the party wants to avoid is a divisive leadership battle"
See also:

18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Who will fill the statesman's shoes?
18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Mallon tops poll to succeed Hume
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
John Hume: Distinguished politician
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Tributes to outgoing SDLP leader
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Search on for Hume successor
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Hume steps down as SDLP leader
08 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein 'greens' the West
27 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
SDLP drive to 'renew' party
21 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Party celebrates 30 years of politics
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