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Labour leadership candidates oppose party standing in Northern Ireland


Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey (Aaron Chown/PA)

Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey (Aaron Chown/PA)

Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey (Aaron Chown/PA)

The four candidates making up the "most Irish line-up for Labour leader in the party's history" are unlikely to stand any candidates in Northern Ireland, according to a report by supporters here.

Labour MPs Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry, Sir Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy are currently battling it out to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour Party Irish Society (LPIS) asked each candidate what they felt were the most important issues in Northern Ireland now that the Stormont Executive has been restored, as well as their views on fielding candidates in elections here.

Liam Conlon of the LPIS - a society affiliated to British Labour for party members of Irish birth or descent - shared the answers with the Belfast Telegraph.

Former barrister Sir Keir worked here for five years as a human rights adviser to the Policing Board, while Ms Thornberry's father lives in Belfast, and Ms Long-Bailey's parents are Irish.

Although she does not have strong connections to the country, Brexit supporter Ms Nandy voted against any hard border on the island of Ireland after the UK left the EU.

When asked about running election candidates here, Sir Keir, Ms Nandy and Ms Long-Bailey were clearly opposed. Ms Long-Bailey simply stated: "I do not support the Labour Party standing candidates in Northern Ireland."

Sir Keir felt that it was not the "right time" for his party to run in elections here and that Labour should "work shoulder to shoulder" with its sister party the SDLP.

Meanwhile, Ms Nandy added that running Labour Party candidates is "unlikely to be appropriate or indeed welcomed in Northern Ireland".

"Our long-standing position not to stand Labour Party candidates in the north is one that, I think, is right in principle and supports our determination to be honest brokers in Northern Ireland," she continued.

Ms Thornberry was more open to the idea, although she said she was not supporting any developments on this any time soon.

The former shadow first secretary of state said that the Labour Party does not stand candidates against sister parties - in this case the SDLP - but she was encouraged that parties had stood aside in certain constituencies in Northern Ireland during December's Westminster election to provide the best chance of "unseating a right-wing candidate likely to side with the Tories".

"So that could provide the basis for Labour to stand candidates at least in some seats, and offer a manifesto with distinctive policies on how we would promote peace, prosperity and public services in Northern Ireland, not based on nationalist or unionist politics, but on the grounds that we'll represent and fight for all working people," continued Ms Thornberry. "And there's also a question of fairness here.

"We've got 1,600 members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party who will be voting in this Labour leadership election but don't ever get a say in who actually runs the country.

"That simply isn't right," she added.

Reflecting on the most important issues facing Northern Ireland, they each highlighted the need to deliver for the people, but the priorities must be decided by locally elected politicians.

Ms Long-Bailey said it was "vital" that the power-sharing government develops a strategy that protects and creates well paid and skilled jobs, while Sir Keir felt healthcare issues and tackling long waiting lists is key.

According to Ms Thornberry, the immediate priority is making the New Decade, New Approach agreement "stick". Finally, Ms Nandy quoted the late former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon in her response, when he stated: "Are we to create a new vision for a new century and a new Ireland, created by the people of Ireland, on the basis of agreement and reconciliation? Come and build with us. Say yes."

She added: "That is the principal task of the Northern Ireland Assembly today, to create a vision based on agreement and reconciliation and, yes, to build a brighter future."

The executive committee of the LPIS described the four candidates as the "most Irish line-up for Labour leader in the party's history" and said that while the party does not run in local elections, they are proud to work alongside the SDLP.

The new Labour leader will be announced on April 4.

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