Councillor resigns over ‘hijacking’ of health protest

Kevin McAteer
Kevin McAteer

A councillor in Newry has quit the SDLP claiming he was embarrassed that the party, along with Sinn Fein, “hijacked” a protest in support of hospital services for party political purposes.

Kevin McAteer said he had “grown increasingly frustrated with party politics” but will remain on the council as an independent.

Explaining his decision, Cllr McAteer said local political representatives had used a huge rally in the city last week, against the removal of stroke services from Daisy Hill Hospital, for their own agendas.

Party placards can be seen in the video embedded here.

“For the SDLP and other political parties the recent Daisy Hill rally was more about getting their own posters and banners littered along the route of the march,” he told Newry Times.

“I witnessed both political parties (SDLP and Sinn Fein) disgustingly rush to try and beat each other to lead the demonstration. I was embarrassed to be representing the SDLP.”

The 28-year-old councillor was elected in May 2014 and the chairman of the SDLP in Newry said the party was “shocked and disappointed” at the resignation.

There was no mention of his resignation (or any recent politics-related matters) on his Twitter account on Saturday, which for the previous month-and-a-half had been comprised almost entirely of postings about English football.

Hugh McShane, chairman of the party branch, said: “Kevin is a young politician who has been fully supported and encouraged by the party in Newry. From the outset, SDLP members in Newry have worked tirelessly to facilitate Kevin’s entry to local politics and those within the party locally who loyally canvassed for Kevin are extremely disappointed that he has decided to go independent. He was elected on an SDLP ticket.”

Mr McShane added: “The SDLP in Newry is like an extended family and the emphasis has always been on the personal welfare of all our members, in particular candidates who are seeking election for the first time.

“For us, being a party member is not just about political debate and activism it is about looking after people. At no point did Kevin share any concerns he had about the party locally with me. Those who took the trouble to come out in May and cast their votes for an SDLP candidate...are now deprived of an authentic SDLP voice in the new council.”