SDLP's McDonnell rules out Tory election pact
Leader McDonnell admits party ‘tilts’ towards Labour at manifesto launch
The SDLP has firmly ruled out working with the Conservatives in a hung Parliament following the General Election.
Leader Alasdair McDonnell said: "The Tory agenda is the direct opposite of all we stand for. We could not work with them."
Mr McDonnell had been accused of being equivocal and suggesting his party would talk to either Labour or Tories in the likely aftermath of the May 7 poll.
But yesterday he said his party had "instincts" which "tilt" towards Labour - although its support for Ed Miliband should not be taken for granted.
Launching the party manifesto, he also called for a 'new deal' for Northern Ireland from the next Westminster Government - but admitted it would take a long time to achieve.
"Power-sharing took a generation before it was accepted, but it was worth it," he told the gathering.
Mr McDonnell is fighting a tight contest against Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir in South Belfast and the party hopes to at least hold onto its other MPs and seats - Mark Durkan in Foyle and Margaret Ritchie in South Down.
They emphasised yesterday that, unlike SF, they will be turning up to vote in the House of Commons - but turned their main guns on the on-going impasse at Stormont.
Mr McDonnell said the "ship of state" at Stormont is "dead in the water"
He added: "The first mate and deputy first mate are up on the bridge looking around them, but they can't agree on a course, much less agree to get the engines going." Instead he said their cry is "at least we are not moving backwards" - but in the last eight years "they have not sailed an inch".
The core idea of the manifesto is a new Economic Accord for Northern Ireland with the Treasury in London, which the SDLP said it would negotiate with the support and help of the Irish government.
Mr McDonnell said his ideas included a new university similar to the Dundalk Institute of Technology which could start to create skills clusters "so that we are not only more attractive to foreign investors but also enhance our own home grown business development".
He said there was a need for investment in workplace training, with 417,000 people in the province with no vocational qualifications "and deemed unskilled."
Mr McDonnell said Northern Ireland had to get out of the grip of the Treasury being able to tell Stormont what to do.
"Putting it bluntly, we are not able to pay our own way," he said.
"Our private sector is the same as East Germany's before the wall came down.
"It is astonishing that just 37% of what we produce comes out of the private sector. Everything else comes out of government in one form or another."
The most likely option for the SDLP is supporting any deal reached between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists, but both Mr McDonnell and Mr Durkan pointed out the party has voted against Labour in the past, including over the welfare cap.