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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 14:41 GMT
Durkan is elected SDLP leader
Mark Durkan (centre) is the new SDLP leader
Mark Durkan (centre) is the new SDLP leader
The SDLP's Mark Durkan has been officially confirmed as the new party leader.

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers was also elected as deputy leader on Sunday.

In his first conference speech as leader, Mr Durkan is expected to reflect on the party's achievements - and focus on the challenges ahead.

It is our duty to understand those fears and then work steadfastly to remove any reason for those fears

Mark Durkan

The nationalist SDLP has gathered in County Down for its annual conference which is John Hume's last as leader.

The party's deputy leader Seamus Mallon has also stepped down.


Mr Durkan is to address a unionist association in one of his first acts as head of the nationalist party.

He told the conference he had received an invitation to address the North Down Unionist Association next week.

"I have accepted it. To listen to the other person's point of view and to explain our point of view is the essence of politics. And it will be a cornerstone of my leadership," he said.

He told delegates there were still fears in the community over political stability.

Mark Durkan: Leader elect acknowledges challenge ahead
Mark Durkan: Leader elect acknowledges challenge ahead

"Deep, deep in me I believe that it is our job to remove those fears.

"It is our duty to understand those fears and then work steadfastly to remove any reason for those fears.

"That is the essence of politics. That is the task of the persuaders - our task."

On Saturday, Mr Hume called on young nationalists to support the new police service.

The Foyle MP told the conference in Newcastle that the IRA's decision to begin decommissioning was a massive step forward.

He also appealed for anti-Agreement unionists to fully participate in shaping the future of Northern Ireland with the other political parties in Northern Ireland.

Deputy first minister

Mr Durkan, currently Northern Ireland finance minister in the Stormont executive, has admitted filling Mr Hume's shoes will not be easy.

Mr Durkan has already gained one new job this week. He was elected Northern Ireland deputy first minister alongside Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble as first minister on Tuesday.

He has admitted that the party has a formidable task ahead in preparing for the challenges of the future.

At the June general election and local elections Sinn Fein made considerable gains on the SDLP.

The republican party won in four constituencies - up two - while the SDLP held onto the three seats it had already held.

That meant the SDLP, the second largest party in Northern Ireland at the last assembly elections, won the least number of Westminster seats of all the parties.

John Reid: Plea to loyalists
John Reid: Plea to loyalists

In his address to the conference, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said loyalist paramilitaries should end their violence and take up politics.

"If you could bring yourself, even at this stage, to say we will desist from attacks that have been going on you will have begun to make a contribution to the future prosperity not only to Catholics but to your own Protestant community," he said.

BBC NI's Mark Simpson
"The new SDLP leadership is now complete"
BBC NI's Martina Purdy
"The secretary of state was there to toast John Hume and Seamus Mallon"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough


Loyalist ceasefire





See also:

28 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Durkan to become SDLP leader
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Hume steps down as SDLP leader
08 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein 'greens' the West
24 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
SDLP debates party overhaul
06 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Governments welcome Trimble election
06 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Scuffles as Trimble re-elected
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