Former NI21 deputy leader joins the SDLP

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Councillor Johnny McCarthy has joined the SDLP, swelling its ranks on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, where, after leaving NI21, he sat until now as an independent.

Party leader Colum Eastwood personally welcomed McCarthy as the SDLP’s fourth local councillor, hailing him “an impressive public representative”.

The Lisburn North councillor himself said he believed the SDLP could leave behind the failed politics of the past and deliver change.

Johnny McCarthy was elected at the last local government poll as NI21’s sole councillor and was soon thereafter named the pro-Union party’s deputy leader, but in December past he decided to leave.

He said at the time: “I simply feel I can work better independent of the party”, adding that he had no serious plans to join another. “All other parties have issues that I disagree with,” he said.

The self-professed atheist, pro-choice on abortion and a campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis, said he believed Northern Ireland must, and would, move forward under Colum Eastwood’s leadership and “the reinvigorated group of young people” in the SDLP.

“I became involved in politics because I believed we needed new ideas, new energy and new politics,” he said. “The SDLP has the experience of revolutionising our politics and it is time for us to grasp the initiative . . .

“I will continue to represent the people of Lisburn and the wider council area and look forward to working closely with my SDLP colleagues on the council.”

One such colleague, Councillor Pat Catney, said of Councillor McCarthy: “I’ve known him for a long time and it’s great to see him grow into the young, progressive man that he is today . . . He will bring a new and exciting dynamic to the SDLP in Lisburn and we’re very pleased to welcome him into the party.”

Meanwhile, a friend of councillor McCarthy’s, Jonny Orr, who stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the last council elections, said on Facebook: “I have mixed feelings about Johnny joining the SDLP. I’m wondering how those that voted for him feel about it?

“It is interesting that the SDLP has signed a pro-choice, atheist that is vocally supportive of cannabis legalisation. As his friend, I know he would never backtrack on his beliefs or support the pro-life argument.” Colum Eastwood, however, welcomed the SDLP’s new recruit as one of the “smart people with smart ideas” the party aimed to attract.

“People like Johnny McCarthy get into politics to change society and the lives of the people they represent,” he said. “All of us in the SDLP want to see Northern Ireland work for all who live here, and an end to sectarian-based, tit-for-tat politics. I am delighted to welcome Johnny to the party and I know he’ll play a key role both in Lisburn and Castlereagh and across Northern Ireland.”