Belfast Telegraph

SDLP rejects call for electoral pact with Sinn Fein

Alex Attwood: "Irish nationalism and Irish democracy is bigger and better than what unionism reduces politics to."

By Amanda Ferguson

The SDLP has rejected Sinn Fein's call for an electoral pact to "maximise pro-Agreement representation" following the Westminster and Assembly elections.

Martin McGuinness has said there is an opportunity to achieve "the largest representation ever for progressive pro-agreement parties" if the SDLP withdraws its candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Upper Bann and North Belfast.

The move comes after DUP leader Peter Robinson proposed a joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone earlier this week and called for the Ulster Unionist Party to stand aside in North Belfast for the DUP's Nigel Dodds.

At the 2010 election in Fermanagh/South Tyrone joint unionist candidate, Rodney Connor, lost to Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew MP by four votes.

Today Mr McGuinness challenged the SDLP to agree not to stand candidates in constituencies where unionist parties agreed pacts.

"For the past two years the political process has been challenged by those who are attempting to turn the clock back," Mr McGuinness said.

“There is a need to send out a clear message of support for progressive politics, the Good Friday Agreement and genuine power sharing and partnership government.

“With an imaginative approach we could maximise representation of progressive Pro Agreement parties at the next Westminster and Assembly elections and in the process challenge the negative agenda of the anti-agreement unionist axis. 

“I am calling therefore on the SDLP to withdraw their candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Upper Bann and North Belfast with the objective of delivering electable pro-Agreement candidates.

"If the SDLP choose to stand in these constituencies they risk handing these seats to anti-agreement unionists.

“This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism and provide allies and support for a future Tory assault on public services. 

“In response Sinn Fein is prepared to withdraw candidates in other constituencies to reciprocate this move from the SDLP.

"This would clearly assist in the election of progressive pro-agreement candidates.”

Mr McGuinness said Sinn Fein would reciprocate but SDLP MLA Alex Attwood rejected the idea. 

"Our question to Martin McGuinness is; northern nationalism and Irish democracy has never followed the lead of unionism, why now should we follow what Peter Robinson (DUP) and Mike Nesbitt (UUP) are trying to do in reducing elections to a head count?," he said.

"Irish nationalism and Irish democracy is bigger and better than what unionism reduces politics to."

Alliance Party chief whip Stewart Dickson MLA criticised the Sinn Fein proposal, saying " electoral pacts are anti-democratic".

"It is not up to Sinn Fein or the SDLP to decide who will be the MP for certain constituencies. The public are not fooled by these shabby little backroom deals and have rejected them in recent elections," Mr Dickson said.

“This type of sectarian headcount is the politics of the past.

"The public wish their representatives to take their constituency forward, not look to the past.

“If the SDLP do step aside in these constituencies, then voters should be aware that they will be left voiceless in Westminster by a Sinn Fein representative.

"I would urge voters to pick Alliance candidates who will follow in Naomi Long’s steps by being a strong advocate for their constituency in the House of Commons

“I hope that the SDLP will reject this offer, or questions will be asked of their commitment to a shared future."

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