Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood says he'd rather have Finucane at home than Dodds in Commons - 'disgraceful' says DUP

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in his native Derry. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in his native Derry. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has defended his party's decision to stand aside in north Belfast in the upcoming General Election.

Mr Eastwood rejected claims that his party was supporting Sinn Fein, but admitted he would "rather see John Finucane sat in the house than Nigel Dodds in the House of Commons".

Mr Eastwood's DUP rival in Foyle Gary Middleton accused the SDLP of adopting a "disgraceful anyone but a unionist position".

"Urging voters to reject abstentionism in Foyle whilst supporting a no show Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast. Shame on them," he wrote on Twitter.

"The SDLP decision to fall in behind Sinn Fein is of no surprise to many, particularly within Londonderry. Attempts to silence unionists failed in the past and will fail in the future."

The SDLP is standing aside to give the remain-supporting Lord Mayor the best chance against the DUP's Nigel Dodds. Sinn Fein are doing likewise in south Belfast.

Mr Eastwood argued that in these "extraordinary times" how Brexit unfolds - if at all - would be decided by next month's election.

"That's why we have made decisions that are uncomfortable for us, but important for the people," the Foyle MLA said.

He said he wanted to see as many pro-remain voices as possible at Westminster and to "take out" pro-Brexit voices.

"We're doing the unprecedented thing to try and protect ourselves from a very bad Brexit," Mr Eastwood said.

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Gary Middleton

The SDLP leader said that his party was not interested in a "nationalist pact".

"What we're interested in doing is taking the likes of Nigel Dodds out of Westminster. He has been one of the architects for the Brexit messes that we're in," he said.

"Wouldn't it be much better if Sinn Fein abandoned their abstentionist policy? Absolutely. If we look at north Belfast, I would much rather have Finucane sitting in the house than Dodds siting in the House of Commons.

"This isn't any other election and if it was any other election we would think differently."

Mr Eastwood rejected claims the SDLP were taking part in a "sectarian headcount".

"The reality is we weren't going to win North Belfast, North Down or East Belfast, but if we can do anything possible to protect ourselves against Brexiteers, then we'll do it," the SDLP leader said.

He said that he was not pretending it was "comfortable" for his party to encourage people to vote for Sinn Fein.

Mr Eastwood said that if he lived in North Belfast he would vote for John Finucane.

"I don't support John Finucane, I don't support Sinn Fein, but of course I would vote for him because I would rather have John Finucane sitting in the house than Nigel Dodds sitting in the House of Commons," he said.

"Out of the two candidates who could win I'd much prefer to see John Finucane win, not because I think he'd be a fantastic MP, infact he'll do nothing, he'll sit in the house, he won't go to Westminster, which I think is wrong, but that's better than someone who will go and misrepresent us."

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