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Don't run in knife-edge constituencies, SF tells SDLP

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein has called on the SDLP to stay out of the General Election contests in North Belfast and Fermanagh-South Tyrone - without offering anything in return.

The republican party's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said withdrawal would ensure the election of "anti-Brexit, pro-Irish unity" candidates.

Her call came after her party nominated John Finucane to run against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds for the North Belfast seat.

The DUP announced it would not run a candidate in Fermanagh-South Tyrone to try to ensure the UUP's Tom Elliott is returned in the constituency, where he faces Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.

Mrs O'Neill said: "If the SDLP believe in that anti-Brexit position that they consistently said in their public narrative, then they should do the right thing."

Asked what the SDLP had to gain, she said: "They get the maximum number of MPs returned which are going to be anti-Brexit, which is their position."

At the 2010 General Election, Sinn Fein stood aside at the last minute in South Belfast and asked the SDLP to do the same in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Ms O'Neill went on: "When the Westminster election campaign was announced I took the initiative to invite other party leaders to explore the possibilities of a progressive pact to maximise the anti-Brexit, anti-Tory vote and pro-rights and pro-equality vote. Other parties were unable to take up this offer. I am calling therefore on the SDLP to give a clear run to John Finucane and Michelle Gildernew as the only credible anti-Brexit, pro-equality and pro-rights candidates in North Belfast and Fermanagh-South Tyrone."

The SDLP was recently involved in discussions about a pro-Brexit pact with Sinn Fein and the Green Party.

At the time, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood insisted he would not contemplate a two-party deal with Sinn Fein after the Green Party withdrew.

Denying her offer amounted to a "sectarian pact", Mrs O'Neill said: "This is not about pacts and it is certainly not about a sectarian pact, it's about maximising the number of MPs who are returned who have adopted the position that is anti-Brexit, which is clearly what the wishes of the people of the north here voted for last June."

Last night Mr Eastwood firmly rejected the approach.

"There's no point running for election if you aren't going to take your seat," he said.

"The SDLP has no intention of facilitating abstentionist MPs who won't take the fight to the Tories on Brexit.

"No-one has worked harder to form a broad anti-Brexit alliance than us.

"We offered to support independent, non-party aligned candidates in constituencies where the people voted to remain but the MP votes for Brexit.

"Other parties have rejected those proposals."

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