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General Election 2017: 'Absolutely no chance' of SDLP, Sinn Fein pact

By Suzanne Breen

The SDLP will not enter an electoral pact with Sinn Fein after the Green Party ruled itself out of anti-Brexit coalition yesterday, senior party sources have said.

SDLP insiders said there was "absolutely no chance" of a deal solely between itself and Sinn Fein to maximise the number of nationalist MPs returned in June's poll.

The Green Party cited SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell's opposition to a woman's right to choose on abortion, and Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy at Westminster as reasons why it couldn't form a pact with those parties.

The Alliance Party opposed the idea of an anti-Brexit pact from the start. With Sinn Fein now the SDLP's only potential coalition partner, party sources admitted that the proposal was "dead in the water".

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill last night urged a "rethink" by Remain parties and said the failure to reach a deal would "almost certainly gift seats to some of the most pro-Brexit hardliners".

Many senior SDLP figures opposed a pact, including South Down MP Margaret Ritchie. The party's wider membership was deeply sceptical, and former SDLP MLA Alban Maginness had also expressed grave doubts.

After the Greens withdrew from the process yesterday, South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna tweeted that "any pact was never going to work positively".

"I think this idea was given ample wind, and it's time for parties to get on campaigning on their own policies and candidates. Let voters decide," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the chances of an anti-Brexit pact were now "slim". He cited Sinn Fein's refusal to take its seats at Westminster as a stumbling block to supporting it.

But he said the SDLP remained open to backing "independent, non-party aligned, pro-Europe candidates in key battleground constituencies".

Mr Eastwood said he was deeply disappointed at the failure of the anti-Brexit initiative.

"It now seems that there is little prospect of political unity against pro-Brexit MPs, despite our best efforts," he added.

"The Green Party's suggestion that a pro-Europe MP (Alasdair McDonnell) who campaigned against and voted against Brexit should stand down is simply a non-runner.

"We have also been unable to overcome the obstacle of abstentionism. This election is about sending a message to London by returning MPs who will take the fight to Theresa May and the Tories at Westminster. That means we need a strong team of pro-Europe MPs taking their seats and taking a stand against a hard Brexit."

Mr Eastwood said it was "a matter of profound regret" that the pact had been opposed by Alliance, whom, he alleged, had "to their shame attempted to sectarianise the proposal".

He added: "It is a democratic travesty that despite 56% of people voting to remain, only 22% of Northern Ireland's MPs voted against Brexit. That cannot stand."

Mrs O'Neill said: "I am disappointed that parties which are opposed to Brexit and Tory cuts, and which are pro-equality, have not been able to agree a progressive alliance to contest the Westminster election.

"This will almost certainly gift seats to some of the most pro-Brexit hardliners. I would urge those parties to reconsider. Sinn Fein remains committed to maximising the anti-Brexit vote in this election."

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