LISTEN: Former SDLP Chief to run for Fine Gael in European election

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By Rebecca Black PA and Q Radio News

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan is set to run as an election candidate for Fine Gael.

It comes just weeks after the SDLP announced a link-up with Fianna Fail.

The former Foyle MP is now set to run as a Fine Gael candidate in Dublin at the next European election in May.

Mark Durkan says he won't be pretending he's a true blue Dub  to try and win a seat:

Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond described Mr Durkan as a "serious addition to the Fine Gael family at this crucial time for our island".

The 58-year-old led the SDLP from 2001 to 2010, taking on the mantle from Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.

He briefly served as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister alongside the Ulster Unionist Party's first minister David Trimble.

Mr Durkan stepped down as SDLP leader to concentrate on his job as Foyle MP.

His defeat by Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion at the 2017 general election was considered to be one of the surprises of that poll, which saw all three SDLP MPs lose their seats.

The Londonderry man has been a member of the SDLP since 1981.

An SDLP spokeswoman paid tribute to Mr Durkan.

"Mark Durkan provided the people of Derry with a first class public service for decades," she said.

"He is a first class parliamentarian and his regrettable absence on the benches of Westminster has not gone unnoticed by parties and communities alike.

"We wish him well in the upcoming European election. Ireland can only benefit from having Mark Durkan back on a parliament bench."

Fianna Fail's branch in Derry said in a tweet it was "disappointed" by the move by a man of Mr Durkan's calibre.

"Fianna Fail and the SDLP are the future on this island, Mark," they added in the tweet.

An SDLP Spokesperson commented:

“Mark Durkan provided the people of Derry with a first class public service for decades. He is a first class parliamentarian and his regrettable absence on the benches of Westminster has not gone unnoticed by parties and communities alike.  

“We wish him well in the upcoming European election. Ireland can only benefit from having Mark Durkan back on a parliament bench.”

Confirming the move at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland's premier Leo Varadkar said his decision to invite Mr Durkan to run as a candidate was for the political future of the island.

"We are living in extraordinary times," Mr Varadkar said.

"We need in the European Parliament people of ability, experience and vision. We need people who can speak and work for the people of the whole island, for Ireland, not just their constituency.

"At this point in time, as Brexit continues to present enormous challenges, we need a place to hear people like Mark Durkan and that place is in the European Parliament.

"Instead of a border poll, I'm asking the people of Dublin to cast a more important vote.

"I don't want the people of Northern Ireland to have no voice or representation in Europe, I don't want them ever left behind again."

Mr Durkan led the SDLP from 2001 to 2010, taking on the mantle from Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.

The 58-year-old briefly served as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister alongside the Ulster Unionist Party's first minister David Trimble.

Now he said he wants to be part of a "strong team Ireland that stands for decency".

"Given my own deep involvement in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, I would really welcome the opportunity to contribute in that context in the European Parliament," he said.

"The Taoiseach is following through on his statement last year that Northern Ireland citizens will not be left behind.

"This is a big ask for the people of Dublin, but as we see a huge disenfranchisement in Northern Ireland, the promises of rights that were framed in the Good Friday Agreement stand in deficit at the minute.

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