SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt victim of 'witch hunt', say party insiders

SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt victim of ‘witch hunt’, say party insiders

EXCLUSIVE: JEALOUS SDLP rivals launched a witch hunt campaign against Conall McDevitt to stop him becoming party leader.

Insiders say they had been sharpening their knives after the 41-year-old had become too high profile.

And to stop his star from shining any brighter, it is claimed they leaked a series of stories to the media about undeclared payments to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, Dublin-born McDevitt sensationally quit over the payments scandal.

McDevitt had become very prominent in recent months, regularly appearing on television programmes and radio shows.

“Some within the party couldn’t stand to see him on the TV all the time,” said an SDLP source.

“But he was articulate, intelligent and could talk about any issue. That’s why he was such a media darling.

“It didn’t go down well with some who thought he was eclipsing them and the party leader.

“One senior figure told a party colleague very recently: ‘He is nothing but a f***king bucket mouth’. That’s what some really thought about him. They just couldn’t stand him.

“There has been a lot of crocodile tears this week about Conall quitting.

“But some are privately glad to see the back of him. They thought he was getting too big for his boots,” added the source.

On Friday, SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell broke cover to publicly declare there was no rift between him and Mr McDevitt.

Speaking outside the party’s south Belfast headquarters, Dr McDonnell described him as “party leader in waiting” and a “close personal colleague”.

“Conall was a very valued member of the assembly,” said the SDLP leader.

“He had made a tremendous impact.

“He was the runner-up in the leadership contest two years ago and certainly Conall was seen as my successor.

“He certainly earned that and he continued to earn that reputation.”

However, he wouldn’t say whether had tried to talk Mr McDevitt into staying on.

“I think the point from us is that Conall has asked for privacy. We fully respect his privacy,” added the south Belfast MP.

Mr McDevitt dramatically quit from politics and public life on Wednesday evening as an expenses scandal engulfed him.

It followed revelations that between March 2010 and August 2010 he had received a total of £6,750 from a PR firm.

However, he had failed to declare it on the Assembly’s register of Members’ Interests.

It was the THIRD time he had failed to disclose information on the register.

Days earlier it was revealed that he had paid £30,000 of public money over a two year period to a company called JM Consulting for research work for him as a Policing Board member.

And last month it was revealed that more than £14,000 from his Assembly office cost was also paid to researchers through JM Consulting.

However, he failed to declare that the company belonged to his wife Joanne Murphy.

Mr McDevitt said the earnings from PR firm Weber Shandwick should have been declared.

“That’s a serious breach, in my opinion, of the code,” he said.

“I am deeply sorry.”

Five SDLP candidates have now emerged as possible contenders to replace him in south Belfast.

A popular choice within the constituency association is said to be Belfast city councillor and former Lord Mayor Pat McCarthy.

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