Belfast Telegraph

What General Election means for Northern Ireland - Parties set out their stalls

By Noel McAdam

The starting guns have been fired in the election. With Parliament formally dissolved, the battle has officially begun to elect the next one.

The Belfast Telegraph asked the main parties to spell out what they believed the central theme of the election would be.

The DUP insisted the contest was about securing the restoration of Stormont.

But Sinn Fein argued it was about changing the face of politics here to end arrogance and disrespect.

The Ulster Unionists, however, warned the weeks ahead would see an attempt to "destabilise" the Union.

And the SDLP insisted the results could reinforce the province's vote to remain within the European Union.

Alliance, meanwhile, blasted the last parliamentary term as the most "self-destructive" in living memory.

With five weeks to go before polling day on June 8, the parties will be wary of peaking too soon. They have to sustain the interest of the public, which has already had two elections in the last year, as well as the European referendum.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said: "This election is an opportunity for people to vote for the Union, and with the DUP they can elect a party with real influence at Westminster to stand up for them.

"Only the DUP can secure the best deal for Northern Ireland as we leave the European Union.

"Whilst the talks at Stormont have been paused, a vote for the DUP is a vote to support the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive.

"It is wrong that key decisions on health, education and issues impacting on people's lives are held back because of one party's refusal to move forward."

But Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd argued: "In the most recent Assembly election, people came out in huge numbers to make their voice heard (and) sent a clear message that they wanted an end to the politics of arrogance, disrespect and allegations of corruption.

"By voting for Sinn Fein, people showed they wanted equality, integrity and respect.

"Their votes made a difference and now, in this Westminster election, they can make a difference again.

"A vote for Sinn Fein sends a clear message to Theresa May and her Brexiteer allies that we will not accept Brexit, borders or Tory cuts."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said, however: "This election is not a re-run of last year's referendum on membership of the EU - that boat has sailed. Instead, we should be concentrating on coming together to get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit negotiations and resist those who are attempting to use this election as an attempt to destabilise the Union.

"That means electing Ulster Unionist politicians who will speak up for all the people of Northern Ireland and give them a voice in Westminster.

"There is no point in electing people who won't turn up but are quite happy to keep claiming the expenses."

In contrast, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood pointed out his party was prepared to "take the fight" on Brexit to Westminster.

"Theresa May called this election to strengthen her hand for a hard Brexit," he said.

"If she wants to reinforce the referendum result, then let's reinforce the decision made by people in Northern Ireland and let's return as many pro-Europe MPs as possible who will defend the interests of our people.

"You can't fight Brexit by staying at home and you can't fight it if your MP won't turn up.

"We're prepared to take the fight to the Tories at Westminster."

And Alliance's Paula Bradshaw argued: "This parliamentary term has been the most self-destructive in living memory.

"As well as seeing some regressive social policies, Parliament then voted for a process liable to lead to a hard Brexit without due consideration to the devastating effect it would have on both the UK as a whole and the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland in particular.

"The next parliamentary term established after the election needs to have a more progressive outlook, with MPs working in the interest of all."

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