Margaret Richie replaces Mark Durkan at the helm of the SDLP

In a surprise development, the North's Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has been e3lected as leader of the SDLP, replacing Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who stepped down last evening. Mr Durkan says he plans to concentrate his energies on representing the Foyle constituency at Westminister.

Ms Ritchie defeated South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell in a vote at the party conference, becoming the first female leader of one of Northern Ireland's main political parties.

Last night, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, a long time friend of Mark Durkan's, attended the SDLP conference, which is concluding this afternoon at Newcastle in Co Down.