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Electoral pact with Sinn Fein ruled out

By Liam Clarke

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell has firmly ruled out any electoral pact with Sinn Fein and has opened the door to the SDLP moving into opposition at the Assembly.

Under current mandatory coalition system the SDLP is allocated on ministry on the Executive. Dr McDonnell has in the past been reluctant to give up the office, especially since there is no provision for funding an opposition at Stormont.

On Saturday he mellowed considerably on the subject after stirring speeches in favour of opposition by his deputy Dolores Kelly and Margaret Ritchie, the MP for South Down.

He accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of being two parties who "cannot and will not work constructively together" and added "we don't have a partnership government; we have another self-serving deadlock".

He added: "As things stand there is no official role for an opposition within the Stormont structures. We will argue for a properly structured opposition to be put in place in future years, resourced, allowed proper space and time on the floor of the Assembly, allocated a share of Assembly staff support and places on committees."

He added: "We will not be part of a broken and politically bankrupt Executive if it doesn't get its act together.

"Opposition has to have clearer definition and serve the public interest. It is however an option we will reserve, we will review and we will evaluate on an ongoing basis."

In an unscripted comment he added that the position on opposition would be reviewed monthly.

The SDLP leader decisively rejected voting pacts with Sinn Fein in the forthcoming Westminster election.

"The SDLP will be standing candidates for election in every single constituency in the North, armed only with our excellent candidates and our progressive policies. They won't be based on sectarian, selfish interests.

"I'm already fighting South Belfast with all of my energy and Mark Durkan has been doing the same in Derry and Margaret Ritchie in South Down," he said.

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