One of Northern Ireland's longest serving MPs, Eddie McGrady of the SDLP, has revealed he is standing down at the general election.
News that the 74-year-old veteran is to step down sparked speculation that the party's newly appointed leader Margaret Ritchie, his former parliamentary assistant, may contest his South Down seat.
Mr McGrady has served as an MP since 1987.
The party declined to comment on speculation Ms Ritchie might seek SDLP permission to stand for the Westminster constituency.
She resigned her role as a local government councillor last year under SDLP plans to phase out 'double jobbing', but already serves as an Assembly member, government minister and party leader.
As Mr McGrady announced he was bowing out, he said: ‘It has been a great honour and privilege to serve the people of Down for 50 years as councillor, Assembly Member and Member of Parliament.
‘Since my election I have always endeavoured to represent all my constituents to the best of my ability and I will always be grateful for all their support and kindness over the years.’