Alasdair McDonnell

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Alasdair McDonnell
Alasdair McDonnell MP.JPG
McDonnell in 2014
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
In office
5 November 2011 – 14 November 2015
Preceded byMargaret Ritchie
Succeeded byColum Eastwood
Member of Parliament
for Belfast South
In office
5 May 2005 – 3 May 2017
Preceded byMartin Smyth
Succeeded byEmma Little-Pengelly
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Belfast South
In office
25 June 1998 – 21 June 2015
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byClaire Hanna
Personal details
Born (1949-09-01) 1 September 1949 (age 71)
Cushendall, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Political partySocial Democratic and Labour Party
Spouse(s)Olivia Nugent
Alma materUniversity College Dublin
WebsiteOfficial website

Alasdair McDonnell (born 1 September 1949) is an Irish politician who is a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and was its leader from 2011 to 2015. He was the Member of Parliament for Belfast South from 2005 to 2017[1] and also a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland for Belfast South from 1998 to 2015.[2]

Political career[edit]

McDonnell's first involvement with politics came when he joined the National Democrats and stood as the party candidate in the 1970 election in North Antrim and lost to Ian Paisley.[3]

McDonnell first won election to Belfast City Council in 1977, representing Belfast "Area A" which included the Short Strand and Upper Ormeau areas. He lost his council seat in a surprise result in 1981 but returned in 1985 and served as the first Catholic Deputy Mayor of Belfast in 1995–96.

He first stood for the Westminster constituency of South Belfast in the 1979 general election and subsequently contested the constituency at each subsequent general election, though not in the 1986 by-election (caused by the resignation of Unionist MPs in protest at the Anglo Irish Agreement). He was also elected from the constituency to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum in 1996 and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 and 2003.

In 2004 he became his party's deputy leader. In the 2005 general election McDonnell generated one of the most sensational results in Northern Ireland when he won South Belfast, primarily due to a split in the unionist vote. He received 10,339 votes while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) candidate Jimmy Spratt received 9,104 votes and Ulster Unionist Party candidate Michael McGimpsey received 7,263 votes. He was then re-elected by an increased majority in the 2010 general election. On 5 November 2011, he was elected leader of the SDLP at its conference in Belfast, succeeding Margaret Ritchie.[2]

In a 2012 interview with The News Letter, McDonnell criticised Sinn Féin. He said the party were run along "Soviet style" lines where there was a military structure and where former terrorists were being placed into positions of power. He also claimed many people voting for Sinn Féin were doing so as an act of defiance.[4]

As SDLP chief, McDonnell described the terms of the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies, a seemingly blocked plan to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons by 50 (including two from Northern Ireland) to 600, as "a bureaucratic numbers game initiated by the Tories for purely party political advantage".[5]

In June 2013, the SDLP abstained during the vote on the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill[6] in Stormont, ensuring its passing. This led to claims from Sinn Féin that the SDLP was endorsing a 'hierarchy of victims' agenda and abandoning the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.[7]

Despite the reported claims[7] from Sinn Féin that it was inevitable that someone would mount a legal challenge to "what republicans view as a discriminatory law" no such challenge has since emerged. In the 2015 United Kingdom general election he stood again in Belfast South and was returned on 24.5% of the vote, the lowest ever vote share recorded by a successful MP in any part of the UK.[8]

On 14 November 2015, McDonnell lost the leadership contest held at the SDLP's annual conference. His successor as leader of the party, Colum Eastwood, won with 172 votes to the 133 that McDonnell received.[9]

On 9 June 2017, McDonnell lost his South Belfast seat to Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP) in the 2017 general election.[1]


  1. ^ a b Grattan, Gary (9 June 2017). "Video: SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell loses South Belfast seat". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 January 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Alasdair McDonnell elected SDLP leader" Archived 6 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine,, 5 November 2011.
  3. ^ North Antrim 1950–1970 Archived 4 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 15 May 2016.
  4. ^ McBride, Sam (8 August 2012). "SDLP scorn for Soviet style SF". The News Letter. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  5. ^ Clarke, Liam (8 August 2012). "SDLP chief Alasdair McDonnell relishes coalition row that could save his seat". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 June 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  6. ^ "NI Assembly Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill". NI Assembly. 8 July 2013. Archived from the original on 13 April 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Special adviser bill passed after marathon Stormont debate". BBC News. 4 June 2013. Archived from the original on 4 June 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  8. ^ Lowry, Ben (9 May 2015). "McDonnell won S. Belfast with lowest ever vote share by a UK MP". The News Letter. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  9. ^ "SDLP leadership: Colum Eastwood wins contest against Alasdair McDonnell". BBC News. 14 November 2015. Archived from the original on 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.

External links[edit]

Civic offices
Preceded by
Ian Adamson
Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast
Succeeded by
Margaret Crooks
Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Member of the Northern Ireland Forum
South Belfast

Forum dissolved
Northern Ireland Assembly
New assembly Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Belfast South

Succeeded by
Claire Hanna
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Martin Smyth
Member of Parliament
for Belfast South

Succeeded by
Emma Little-Pengelly
Party political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Ritchie
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Succeeded by
Colum Eastwood