As the SDLP comes to terms with the loss of one of its “brightest stars” on Wednesday, thoughts are already turning to who will replace Conall McDevitt in both the Assembly and on the Policing Board.
The South Belfast MLA resigned with immediate effect after it emerged he had not declared in the Assembly’s register of members’ interests a payment of £6,750 from a PR company.
Mr McDevitt was widely viewed as one of the SDLP’s most capable representatives who many people believe was destined to be the party’s next leader. However, he admitted that he had failed in his duty to uphold the standards expected of an MLA.
Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly described Mr McDevitt as one of the SDLP’s “brightest stars” and said his departure was a “sad day” for the party.
“I, like many people across the north, am personally devastated by the news that Conall has resigned from the party.
“He set a very high standard for himself and he accepted a very high price.
“Conall McDevitt did not steal one penny, he committed no offence,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.
“He was negligent in not putting onto the register a payment that he (received) for work that he did whilst he was an MLA, and I think I speak for many people both within and without the party that it’s a very sad day for the SDLP to have lost a person of the calibre of Conall McDevitt,” Mrs Kelly added.
As well as the Assembly and Policing Board vacancies, the SDLP will soon be appointing McDevitt’s successor on the Stormont health committee and as Alex Attwood’s partner at next week’s Haass negotiations.
It was expected the next fight for posts within the party would have been in 2015, when most observers believe SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell will vacate his Assembly seat in line with the forthcoming ban on double-jobbing.
Mr McDonnell is the sitting MP for South Belfast and is expected to retain his seat at Westminster next time around.
Two early front-runners to replace Mr Devitt at Stormont are former broadcast journalist Ferghal McKinney and Belfast councillor Claire Hanna.
Yesterday afternoon the former MLA used Twitter to say: “Thanks everyone for your kind words and messages. Just want to make clear that I will not be returning to public life in the future.”
Some of his political opponents have been generous in their praise of Mr McDevitt.
Edwin Poots of the DUP posted the message: “Sometimes a day is a long time in politics, never mind a week. I enjoyed scrapping with Conall, he was an able opponent.”
Among several other MLAs expressing their views on Twitter was TUV leader Jim Allister who said: “Though opposed to Conall McDevitt’s politics, he had talent and ability well above the average MLA. Not an easy decision for him.”