Margaret Ritchie, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

Margaret Mary Ritchie, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (born 25 March 1958 in Downpatrick) is an Irish politician who was the Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party from 2010 to 2011. She was previously the Minister for Social Development from 2007 to 2010, when she was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for South Down.

The Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick
Margaret ritchie.jpg
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
In office
7 February 2010 – 5 November 2011
DeputyPatsy McGlone
Preceded byMark Durkan
Succeeded byAlasdair McDonnell
Minister for Social Development
In office
8 May 2007 – 7 February 2010
First MinisterIan Paisley
Peter Robinson
Arlene Foster (Acting)
Preceded byNigel Dodds
Succeeded byAlex Attwood
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
16 October 2019
Life Peerage
Member of Parliament
for South Down
In office
6 May 2010 – 3 May 2017
Preceded byEddie McGrady
Succeeded byChris Hazzard
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for South Down
In office
26 November 2003 – 31 March 2012
Preceded byEddie McGrady
Succeeded bySeán Rogers
Personal details
Born (1958-03-25) 25 March 1958 (age 61)
Downpatrick, Northern Ireland
Political partyIndependent (2019-present)[1]
Other political
Social Democratic and Labour Party (1980-2019)[2]
Alma materQueen's University Belfast
WebsiteOfficial website

Political careerEdit

Ritchie is a graduate of Queen's University, Belfast and served as parliamentary assistant to Eddie McGrady MP from 1987 to 2003. Ritchie became a councillor on Down District Council in 1985 and was Vice-Chairman (1992–93) and Chairman of the Council (1993–1994). She has also served as International Secretary of the SDLP and as an alternate member of the European Committee of the Regions.

She was nominated as the Social Development Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly by the SDLP which took effect on 8 May 2007. Ritchie served as the sole SDLP minister in the Paisley/Robinson-McGuinness Northern Ireland Executive up to 2010.


She became the leader of the SDLP, succeeding Mark Durkan on 7 February 2010, and was elected MP for South Down on 6 May 2010.[3]

On Remembrance Day 2010, Ritchie made history by becoming the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a remembrance poppy. She wore it at the wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph in Downpatrick. In Northern Ireland, the wearing of poppies is controversial as it is seen by many as a political symbol representing support for the British Army.[4] Because of this, it has long been the preserve of the unionist/loyalist community.[5] She received praise from several unionist councillors for this.[6][7][8]

In December 2010 she launched a verbal attack on Sinn Féin by urging voters in the Republic of Ireland not to vote for Sinn Féin in the next Irish general election describing their politics as 'sectarian' and causing 'division'.[9] A Sinn Féin spokesperson described the comments as "nonsense" and "an attempt to score cheap points".[10]

In the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the SDLP lost two seats and saw its vote decline by 1%. On 27 July 2011 it was reported that she faced a leadership challenge from deputy leader Patsy McGlone.[11] The Phoenix reported that only one MLA Alex Attwood was prepared to back her and that "she will be humiliated if she puts her leadership to a vote"[12] She stepped down in November 2011.

In a leaked US diplomatic cable, Ritchie was branded "wooden" and had her leadership of the SDLP questioned. Also she was considered to be burdened "with what some deem an unpleasant speaking voice" and lacking the "political muscle and business acumen" to rebuild the SDLP.[13] The Belfast Telegraph broke the story but also commented that Ritchie was "sincere, decent and focused, but these qualities do not come across on TV or in large gatherings."[14]

Ritchie announced when leaving the leadership of the SDLP that she would also vacate her seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to concentrate on her role as a Member of Parliament,[15] and the SDLP subsequently selected retired headteacher Seán Rodgers to replace her at Stormont.[16] She submitted a letter of resignation to the Assembly at the end of February 2012, to take effect on 31 March.[17]


Ritchie spoke to senior Ulster Bank officials to emphasise the need for them to fully reimburse customers following their computer failure in 2012, saying: "Many customers are still experiencing difficulties with Ulster Bank in that they haven't been fully reimbursed for the money they lost as a result of the bank's computer system failure. This has been compounded by a complete lack of communication from the bank throughout the difficulties their customers have been experiencing."[18]


On 10 September 2019 it was announced that Ritchie had accepted a Life Peerage as part of Theresa May's resignation honours list.[19] Ritchie was created Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, of Downpatrick in the County of Down, on 16 October 2019.[20]


  1. ^ Gordon, Gareth (10 September 2019). "Margaret Ritchie quits SDLP to become peer". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Margaret Ritchie: If the SDLP name disappears I will severely regret it". Newsletter. 4 January 2019. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Ritchie elected as new SDLP leader". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 7 February 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  4. ^ "Thousands gather to remember war dead". Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  5. ^ Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Symbols – Unionist and Loyalist".
  6. ^ SDLP Leader Ritchie to wear Poppy BBC News
  7. ^ Decision to wear poppy difficult for SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie Belfast Telegraph
  8. ^ Ritchie's Poppy Move 'Is a major breakthrough' The News Letter
  9. ^ Ritchie warns voters over Sinn FeinBelfast Telegraph
  10. ^[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Margaret Ritchie: SDLP leader 'to face challenge'". BBC News. 27 July 2011.
  12. ^ [1] The Phoenix Magazine, 12 – 25 August 2011 Bird's Eye View Patsy McGlone's Leadership Strike p. 8.
  13. ^ US Cable brands SDLP leader wooden Archived 28 September 2012 at the Wayback MachineBBC News
  14. ^ Clarke, Liam. "Ritchie quits as SDLP leader". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  15. ^ Moriarty, Gerry (9 September 2011). "Ritchie to stand down from SDLP leadership". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  16. ^ "Former Kilkeel Headmaster to become MLA for South Down". Newry Times. 7 December 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  17. ^ Resignation of Margaret Ritchie[permanent dead link], Official Report, Northern Ireland Assembly, 27 February 2012.
  18. ^ Malone, Paul. "Ritchie urges Ulster Bank to "fully reimburse" customers". Newry Times. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  19. ^ Young, Connla (10 September 2019). "Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to take seat in House of Lords". Irish News. Irish News. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  20. ^ "No. 62802". The London Gazette. 22 October 2019. p. 18924.

External linksEdit

Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Member of the Northern Ireland Forum
for South Down

Forum dissolved
Northern Ireland Assembly
Preceded by
Eddie McGrady
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for South Down

Succeeded by
Seán Rogers
Political offices
Office suspended
Title last held by
Nigel Dodds
Minister for Social Development
Succeeded by
Alex Attwood
Preceded by
Mark Durkan
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Succeeded by
Alasdair McDonnell
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Eddie McGrady
Member of Parliament
for South Down

Succeeded by
Chris Hazzard