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Burnham wants Labour to contest elections in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/07/2015

Andy Burnham said he remained committed, in principle, to the Labour Party in Northern Ireland contesting elections
Andy Burnham said he remained committed, in principle, to the Labour Party in Northern Ireland contesting elections

The front-runner to become the next Labour leader has confirmed he wants to contest elections in Northern Ireland for the first time.

For decades Labour activists in the province have been blocked from running official candidates due to its relationship with its "sister party" the SDLP.

But in a message to Labour members here, Andy Burnham said he hoped the issue could be resolved as soon as possible.

He said: "I remain committed in principle to the party in Northern Ireland contesting elections and that hasn't changed.

"We do need to build a strong, progressive voice in politics across Ireland that reaches beyond the divides in the community."

Bookies have made Mr Burnham the favourite to succeed Ed Miliband, who pledged the issue of Labour organising in the province would be examined in the new Parliament.

Then Labour crashed to defeat in the general election and Mr Miliband resigned.

The Labour Party in NI gave its first nomination to Mr Burnham in 2010, and is likely to reiterate its support in the current contest.

Three years ago local Labour representatives hit out at the decision of the party's national executive committee (NEC) to continue preventing development of the party in the province.

"The Labour Party is continuing to deny people in Northern Ireland their fundamental democratic rights in a discriminatory way," it said.

"We remain unable to vote for the party that aspires to govern us and which, if successful in the next general election, will set our taxes and determine the level of our public services and benefits. We are all effectively disenfranchised by the Labour Party."

In his personal video to Labour supporters here, Mr Burnham expressed his "deep gratitude" for their backing five years ago - and apologised for not coming over here.

Mr Burnham said: "I am sorry I have not managed to get over to see you, but I remain committed in principle to the party in NI contesting elections and that hasn't changed.

"But we need to take it forward, working in partnership, of course, with sister parties the SDLP and the Irish Labour Party."

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