Thursday 21 September 2017 07:47:40 AM

Laura Devlin To Replace Eamonn O’Neill As District Councillor
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LAURA Devlin has been selected by her SDLP party colleague at Sunday’s selection convention meeting held in Hillyard House in Castlewellan to replace out-going Down District Councillor Eamonn ONeill who has been a Councillor for over 36 years.

Speaking at the selection convention, Laura said: “Fourteen  years ago I attended an interview in Eamonn ONeill’s office.  An interview for a temporary role to answer the phone for a couple of weeks and fortunately this lasted over four years.  Shortly after I joined the Castlewellan and Kilcoo Branch of the SDLP and developed a great interest in my local area and helping people with everyday issues such flooding and planning.

Councillor Colin McGrath, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, and South Down MLA Sean Rogers, with Cllr Eamonn O'Neill and Laura Devlin, who will step into Cllr O'Neill's role later this month.

Councillor Colin McGrath, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, and South Down MLA Séan Rogers, with Cllr Eamonn O’Neill and Laura Devlin, who will step into Cllr O’Neill’s role in December.

“Following the election of 2003, I moved to Downpatrick where I worked for Margaret Ritchie for four years and this covered part of Margaret’s tenure as Minister for Social Development.  You can imagine how much I learnt – it certainly was character building.

“I was out of politics for a few years but I really missed the excitement.  I especially missed working with the local community on everyday issues.  So when the opportunity of a job with Seán Rogers came up, I jumped at the chance to get back.  However, my time in the private sector was certainly not wasted and gave me a wider understanding of the issues that businesses face and has put me on a better footing for entering Council.

“I work between the Newcastle and Castlewellan Offices. Day and daily I am dealing with bread and butter constituency issues and constituency work is what I do best.  Over the years I have established excellent contacts throughout Government and have the ability to utilise these contacts for the benefit of our constituents. With the lack of jobs, I am dealing with a lot of benefit cases and am making a real difference on the lives of many in the wider Newcastle area.  This is something that I am building upon and word is spreading of the good work.”

Laura spoke about her parents… her dad is a former milkman and her mum still owns a shoe shop in Castlewellan.   She said: “Both of my parents gave me a strong work ethic and a sense of morality that we should all have – to try and help those who need it.  Something which is vital when entering politics.  So I thank them for that.”

In concluding, Laura spoke highly of Eamonn O’Neill – the man whose shoes she has to fill.  “Looking back on the past 14 years as initially as an employee, I very quickly became a great friend to the whole O’Neill family.  However, it is still slightly surreal that I am here tonight seeking support to be co-opted onto Eamonn’s seat. There is no bigger mantle to take on.

“The contribution that he has made to not only Castlewellan, the Newcastle DEA, South Down and the North during his time as an MLA was second to none and would rival any other politician to this day. So I thank Eamonn for that and I really look forward to his continued support and mentoring in the weeks, months and years ahead.  I only hope that I do half as well a job as he has done.“

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Congratulations From South Down MP Margaret Ritchie

Margaret Ritchie MP has congratulated Laura Devlin  on her selection to replace Cllr Eamonn O’Neill. Ms Ritchie said:  “I have no doubt Laura will make an excellent councillor due to her dedication, work ethic and professionalism.

“Laura is no stranger to political life, having been a member of the SDLP for over ten years, and having worked for me in my constituency office previously. She poses a wide range of knowledge on a planning, benefits, and roads which will be instrumental to her in her new position.

“Her selection will mean the SDLP Down District Council Group has now an equal make up of male and female councillors, again signifying the SDLP’s continued commitment to equality and representation.”

Ms Ritchie has also paid tribute to Cllr Eamonn O’Neill as he prepares to step down from Council on the 16 December. She said: “Eamonn has dedicated his life to serving the public. He has been a district councillor for over thirty years, and has also served in the NI Assembly.

“Eamonn has played a pivotal role in the regeneration of Castlewellan, most recently in the restoration of the arboretium. He has played a significant role in the development of the party locally, having been SDLP council group leader for a substantial number of years. I wish him every happiness in his retirement from front line politics.”

O’Neill Welcomes Laura Devlin Into The Political Ring

Speaking at the SDLP selection convention, Councillor Eamonn O’Neill said: “I have the privilege of proposing Laura Devlin as the co-option candidate from the SDLP to fill the vacancy on Down District Council created by my retirement.

Laura Devlin gets a welcome handshake from Councillor Eamonn O'Neill after she is selected to replace his on Down District Council after a 36 year service.

Laura Devlin gets a welcome handshake from Councillor Eamonn O’Neill after she is selected to replace him on Down District Council after a 36 year service.

“For me, stepping down after I have fought nine council elections, and having been returned each time, covering almost 36 years, will make a big difference. As leader of the SDLP Group on Down District Council for the past 21 years I was obviously reluctant to have to leave the group. But on both counts I am totally happy to retire because I know Laura will make a really first class Councillor and public representative.

“Laura is the sort of Councillor the SDLP need, full of enthusiasm, energy and skills. She has great ability and determination. She is honest, shows real caring for constituents and their troubles and constantly displays good judgement.

“So when I say it is a privilege to propose Laura I really mean it, and I will be doing a great favour to the people of our local area by providing such a public representative of quality for them.

“They say that good things come in small packages. Well, our political opponents might think that Laura is ‘some wee girl’ – they would be well advised to watch themselves because she is the original ‘pocket rocket’ who will soon change their view.

“I cannot speak highly enough of her and I wish her all the best.”

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Rogers Congratulates Laura Devlin On her Selection

South Down SDLP MLA Seán Rogers spoke out following the party’s endorsement of Laura Devlin to replace Eamonn ONeill on Down District Council.

Mr Rogers said: “Eamonn is a tremendous politician who has served us all well with such finesse and integrity.  To devote 36 years to public service is testament to the person that you are and the commitment that you have always shown to the Sdlp.   I wish to thank you for that and wish you well in your retirement from Council however it is certainly not a retirement from the SDLP.

“I was delighted when Laura came on board as my Constituency Manager.  Unlike many of my colleague sin the party, I first encountered Laura King in a green St Louis Grammar School uniform and she was a talker back then as much as now!  Laura is an absolute asset to my office and provides a first class service to the constituents in South Down.

“I agree with Eamonn and Margaret in saying that she will make an excellent Councillor in the continuation of the good work that has been done by Eamonn in this area and I look forward to Laura taking her seat on the 16 December in Down District Council.”