MP for the Foyle Constituency
Former Deputy First Minister
Former Leader of the SDLP
Fellow of the British-American Project
Biography: Mark Durkan was born in Derry; his father, Brendan, was an Royal Ulster Constabulary District Inspector in Armagh. He was raised by his mother, Isobel, after his father was killed in a road accident in 1961. He was educated at St. Patrick’s Primary School and at St. Columb’s College.
He studied politics at the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB), and later did a part-time postgraduate course in Public Policy Management with the University of Ulster at Magee. While at QUB Durkan served as Deputy President of Queen’s Students’ Union from 1982 to 1983. He was also elected Deputy President of the Union of Students in Ireland from 1982 to 1984.
He became involved in national politics in 1981 when he became a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. In 1984 he went to work for John Hume as his Westminster Assistant. He also became a key figure in organising by-election campaigns for Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady in the 1980s.
In 1990 Durkan became chairperson of the SDLP, a position he served in until 1995. He was a key member of the party’s negotiating team in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement. Following the Agreement he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, and became a member of the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister for Finance and Personnel. He served in that position until 2001 when he replaced Seamus Mallon as deputy First Minister. He was also elected Leader of the SDLP the same year.
Durkan was reelected to the Assembly in the election of November 2003.
However, the Assembly and the Executive remain suspended. In the 2005 general election he retained the Foyle seat at Westminster for the SDLP. While down on Hume’s vote, Durkan won with a comfortable majority, despite a strong effort by Sinn Féin to take the seat. He won 21,119 votes which was 46.3% of the total.
Durkan announced his intention to stand down as leader of the SDLP in September 2009 so he could concentrate on his parliamentary career. He was replaced as leader by Margaret Ritchie in February 2010. He is a Fellow of the British-American Project.