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SDLP MLA Joe Byrne to step down by the end of the month

Joe Byrne.

Joe Byrne.

SDLP MLA Joe Byrne is set to stand down from the Assembly before the end of the month, the Ulster Herald has learned.

The 62-year-old West Tyrone MLA had already confirmed that he would not seek another term of office at next year’s Assembly election for health reasons.

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However it’s now understood that Mr Byrne will stand aside before the end of the year.

Local party members were notified of imminent retirement in an internal e-mail circulated last Thursday evening.

Strabane man Daniel McCrossan was in line to replace Mr Byrne after he secured the nomination to stand as the sole SDLP candidate at the next Assembly election in a controversial West Tyrone selection convention in October.

SDLP councillors Jo Deehan and Patsy Kelly were also set to compete for the nomination at that convention, but in the end boycotted the meeting along with a significant number of party members.

A leaked e-mail outlined grievances over discipline within the party and called for the SDLP leadership to adhere to an agreement to run two candidates in the constituency.

It’s now expected that the two councillors will throw their hats back into the ring after SDLP general secretary Gerry Cosgrove confirmed that the party Elections and Organising Committee will welcome applications from interested candidates to fill the vacancy.

The brief application window closes today (Tuesday), with the party’s E&O committee conducting interviews on Wednesday of this week.

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Successful applicants will then proceed to a selection convention in the Mellon Country Hotel on Thursday December 17.

While only one nomination will be up for grabs at that meeting, it remains unclear whether the SDLP will stick to a single candidate at the next election.

A significant number of party members, largely from the Omagh district, have called for two candidates, one from Strabane and one from the Omagh area.

The Ulster Herald understands that new SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has approached an Omagh based councillor about standing as part of a double ticket with Mr McCrossan next year.

However it remains unclear whether any agreement has been secured.

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