Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie: Profile

Margaret Ritchie is the fourth leader of the SDLP
Margaret Ritchie is the fourth leader of the SDLP

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie is an Assembly Member for South Down.

She was appointed Minister for Social Development in May 2007 and is the sole SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Executive.

In the 40 year history of the SDLP, Miss Ritchie has served in a ministerial role longer than any other member.

In November 2009, she formally launched her leadership bid for the party after Mark Durkan signalled his intention to stand down.

Margaret Ritchie was born in Downpatrick, County Down in 1958 and attended Queen's University in Belfast.

She spent her early career teaching in County Down.

Later, Ms Ritchie worked in the care sector pursuing a career in social work.

She joined the SDLP in 1980 at the age of 22 and in 1985 she was elected to Down District Council.

She was later appointed parliamentary assistant and political researcher to the MP for South Down, Eddie McGrady.

She was subsequently elected to Down District Council in successive elections and to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2003 and again in 2007.

Controversy

Ms Ritchie resigned her council seat in June 2009, under the SDLP policy to end "double jobbing".

In October 2007, the social development minister's move over a loyalist initiative led to what were described as "extraordinary" scenes in the chamber of the Northern Ireland assembly.

She announced her intention to stop the initiative which was to get £1.2m of government funding.

The minister cut funding for the Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI) when the UDA failed to meet her 60-day ultimatum to end criminality and begin decommissioning its weapons following violence in Bangor and Carrickfergus.

However, at the Northern Ireland assembly, the then Finance Minister Peter Robinson accused her of being in breach of the ministerial code.

In April 2009, a High Court judge ruled Ms Ritchie was wrong to cut funding as she had not followed proper procedure.

GAA

A statement released by her department at the time said she stood by her decision.

In December 2009, Margaret Ritchie was nominated by the SDLP for the position of minister for the department of justice.

Away from politics, Miss Ritchie is a local history enthusiast with a particular interest in the early Christian and Patrician heritage associated with Downpatrick and the Lecale district.

Her hobbies include walking in the Mournes, reading and Down GAA.

She is also an avid follower of politics and culture in the United States and international affairs generally.

She has become the first female leader of the party and the first to be elected. When Mark Durkan took over from John Hume he was unopposed, as was Mr Hume when he took over from Gerry Fitt.



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