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Alasdair McDonnell warns parties not to take SDLP support for granted over new deal

By Liam Clarke

Published 14/11/2015

On attack: Alasdair McDonnell
On attack: Alasdair McDonnell
Challenger: Colum Eastwood

Dr Alasdair McDonnell will today warn the DUP and Sinn Fein that the SDLP won't "be a mudguard for problem parties".

He will also tell his party conference that the two largest parties cannot count on their automatic support for any deal they reach next week.

"If this is an ambush by these two parties, telling us to stand and deliver or take it or leave it, they should know we won't be in a position to deliver. We want all five parties and the two governments to be fully engaged. When we do talks that way we end up with a process that doesn't deliver and the wheels come off a few miles down the road" he said.

The SDLP leader will be making this pitch in a "back me or sack me" speech at his party conference today.

His leadership is being challenged by Colum Eastwood, the 32-year-old Foyle MLA. He has the support of party grandees like Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers and Pat Hume, wife of John Hume, the Nobel Prize-winning SDLP leader.

He also has the support of Dolores Kelly, the deputy leader, who said last night that the deal being worked out by the big parties was "only yet another sticking plaster to get them to the May election. So let's not get too excited about it."

Both SDLP contenders are determined to play hardball with the two big parties and the British government if elected.

Mr Eastwood has also promised further negotiations as has Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader who has withdrawn from government.

Mr Eastwood's argument will be that the party has lost votes under the current leadership and Ms Kelly said she would like to cooperate with the UUP.

In his speech Dr McDonnell will hit out at National Security provisions which restrict the release of information about the Troubles.

"We think this power is being used as a blanket to avoid any real effort to investigate or deal with past crimes by the state or its agents" he charged.

Dr McDonnell's team are predicting a narrow victory for him in today's election, the results of which will be known around 5pm.

One of his aides who was familiar with the speech gave further details.

"Even if we get a cobbled together deal shortly, Alasdair is asking about implementation. Are we going to be back for Stormont House Three in a few months?" she asked.

Dr McDonnell will also warn that the DUP and Sinn Fein, who have carried out negotiations between themselves in Stormont Castle, have not kept the smaller parities informed.

"We and Alliance have put documents on the table, but for nine weeks of talks Sinn Fein and the DUP have played their cards close to their chests and haven't disclosed anything. Then a couple of days before they knuckle down and pull a rabbit out of a hat and want everyone to agree straight away," Dr McDonnell's aide said.

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