Sean Rogers has been selected by SDLP in South Down to be co-opted into the Stormont Assembly to replace Magaret Ritchie who will now be concentrating on her role as Member of Westminster Parliament.
Seemingly 239 people voted in the Selection Meeting and Sean Rogers won by just 14 votes.
In 1973 when the SDLP won three seats out of seven in the area, Eddie McGrady, Paddy O’Donoghue and Frank Feely were based respectively in Downpatrick, Newcastle and Newry. When SDLP selects three candidates since then it has usually been on that basis. In 2003 SDLP lost a seat here. It was sitting members Eamonn O’Neills who lost by about 50 votes to Margaret Ritchie. Since then the two seats (Ritchie/PJ Bradley and Ritchie/McKevitt) have been based around Downpatrick and Newry/Warrenpoint. The Newcastle based folks therefore had a reasonable enough shout at getting the vacated seat as a co-option to balance and boost the Party standing against Willie Clarke…perceived rightly or wrongly as a weak link for Sinn Féin Remember as well that part of the Downpatrick end of the constituency was hived off to Strangford. From 2001 to 2011 I think he SDLP has lost no seat at Council level in Downpatrick. And I think actually gained a seat in Crotlieve DEA from 2005 to 2011. So at least is “holding”. With McKevitt only beating O’Neill by around 500 votes in 2011, there is a certain logic in boosting the mid Down area and raising the profile of a candidate. The balance of probability is that the three candidates who contest the next election will be balanced geographically ……with 35% of vote in 2011 (Margaret Ritchie, Party Leader got 20%) so a balanced ticket in a lot of ways is the better option to have a chance of taking three.
Critics have noted that Rogers is a 53 year old retired teacher. As to the middle aged “argument” well its hardly an argument at all. In footballing terms the SDLP has a good “senior” team” and a good “youth team” but for all kinds of reasons which are not relevant to this particular discussion but rather an internal one….the “reserve team” linking the two might be a problem. In that sense the SDLP actually needs people who are experienced without having long term ambitions.
Hes an ex-teacher……..Catholic Grammar School principal which could possibly mean that he probably relates to all those Catholic grammar school parents,the subject of much interest and debate that the DUP relates more to them.. Presumably more in touch with feelings on selection/non selection than any “unionist outreach”.
I dont know if Mr Rogers has any electoral form (I couldnt be bothered looking thru records but I dont recall any council activity) but perhaps in keeping with many, the nature of his previous employment did not lend itself to overt political activity……and his retirement allows a certain freedom. I am sure many of us can identify with that. (EDIT……he was actually elected as a first time (?) councillor for Mournes DEA to the Newry & District Council in May 2011).
Yet it seems to me that having a member of an (alleged!) caring profession like a teacher is actually a good thing. Rather than something to be mouthed as an ineffectual insult. The SDLP was arguably born at a very bad time over 40 years ago. I dont suppose those joining in 1970-1973 saw it as a great bandwagon of potential success. A lot of people (teachers like Paddy O’Donoghue & Seamas Mallon solicitors like Paddy Duffy & Paschal O’Hare, doctors like Raymond McClean & Joe Hendron) were prepared to put their shoulders to the wheel.
Oh my God they were middle class. How awful. Yet there appears to be a parallel with 1971 and 2011. People joining and/or working for the SDLP are hardly motivated by the fact that it is a roaring success just now. Far from it. In school staff rooms, the Bar Library, doctors surgeries, there are probably the same kinda public spirited people.