Belfast Telegraph

Special Brexit status may be General Election focus for Sinn Fein

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein has said it will use the general election to attempt to make progress on its campaign for special status for a post-Brexit Northern Ireland.

The party will be seeking to build on its Assembly campaign success - even though there is no question it will continue its boycott of Westminster.

Resurgent mainstream republicanism will have not only Fermanagh-South Tyrone in its sights - where the lack of a unionist pact is all but certain to hand back the seat to republicans - but also South Down and Foyle.

The aim would be to sweep the SDLP away to an Assembly-only party.

Primarily, Sinn Fein will also view the general election as an opportunity to advance its agenda, as Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill indicated in her initial statement yesterday.

She said: "It will be an opportunity for voters to oppose Brexit and reject Tory cuts and austerity," she said. "It is an opportunity to progress designated status for the North within the EU and for a future based on equality, respect, integrity and unity."

Sinn Fein and the SDLP avoided the opportunity yesterday to take political pot-shots at each other, instead focusing on their own analysis of Theresa May's move and maintaining the emphasis on Brexit.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the rush to call a snap Westminster election reflects the disdain Mrs May holds for Northern Ireland and attempts to restore power-sharing government here.

But the Foyle MLA also said that the "election on Brexit" offers an opportunity for the public to stand behind parties which have steadfastly fought to defend Northern Ireland.

"It tells you all you need to know about Theresa May that she would call a snap Westminster election in the middle of intense efforts to restore power sharing government to Northern Ireland," he said.

"From the beginning of her tenure as British Prime Minister she has shown very little but disinterest and disdain for this place.

"As Theresa May seeks a mandate for a hard Brexit from an English electorate, people here have an opportunity to unite behind parties which have defended their will and sought to protect our values.

"England may want to isolate itself from Europe and the world. But people in Northern Ireland and Scotland made a different choice. A choice that cannot be fulfilled through a hard Brexit. We now have an opportunity to strengthen the mandate of parties which campaigned against and consistently voted against Brexit at Westminster.

"I know people are suffering from electoral fatigue. But this is not a time to sit on the sidelines. This is a moment to unite to deliver a strong message to Theresa May and the Brexiteers. Our voice will be heard."

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