Ex-RUC man becomes Sinn Fein councillor
A councillor in east County Derry has today switched
allegiance from the SDLP to Sinn Fein in a dramatic political
development in the area.
Billy Leonard, who was elected to Coleraine Council as a
member of Mark Durkan's nationalist SDLP, informed party
officials at the weekend that he was quitting.
Mr Leonard, a former Protestant lay preacher and a former
member of the RUC, will become the first Sinn Fein councillor
to hold a seat in the predominantly unionist Coleraine Borough
The Portstewart-based councillor has shocked his SDLP party
colleagues with his decision to resign from the party, which
holds four seats on Coleraine Council.
He becomes Sinn Fein's first councillor on Coleraine Council.
Despite being the only nationalist candidate, he topped the
poll in the Portstewart area of Coleraine borough.
Sinn Fein overtook their nationalist rivals by capturing 24
seats in the Belfast Assembly to the SDLP's 18 in the November
The Leonard family home was last year targeted by pipe bombers
and a device was found in the garden of their Portstewart
Today the Portstewart man reiterated his commitment to
representing all people and has stated his move came after a
lot of reflection.
"The sea change in politics in the broad nationalist family
since the Good Friday Agreement has been incredible and I want
to be part of a movement that has vision and strategies and
keen aspirations for Ireland," he said.
"I believe Sinn Fein has all these and it is committed to
building a just peace and will continue to be strong on key
"It is obvious to me that Sinn Fein is both willing to
discharge its responsibilities with unionists and also be
determined to stand against unionist intragencies when
However, the former SDLP man, who has a reputation for his
ambition and hard work, said his move to Sinn Fein would not
affect his constituency work.
Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman of Sinn Fein, said Mr Leonard's
decision was taken after a long period of reflection and
discussion with his family.
He added: "It is a courageous decision and I am sure was not