Ritchie warns voters over Sinn Fein
Sinn Fein's political enemies in Northern Ireland have urged voters in the Republic to shun the party in the forthcoming General Election.
The leader of the nationalist SDLP Margaret Ritchie said she had no wish to interfere in the poll, before launching a blistering attack on republicans, branding Sinn Fein a party of "division".
Her comments came ahead of the Republic's General Election expected to be called for March or April, while her party will take on Sinn Fein in polls north of the border in May.
Over the last decade the SDLP, which has seen Sinn Fein replace it as the dominant nationalist voice in Northern Ireland, had discussed a possible merger with Fianna Fail, while the SDLP also has links to the Labour party in the Republic.
But while Ms Ritchie ruled out pacts with any southern party since she became SDLP leader earlier this year, she has stepped up her attack on Sinn Fein.
"We in the SDLP want good relations with the three main parties, and we would not be telling anybody how they should vote in this particular election, " she said. "But what I would say to them is they will not gain any further comfort, or they will not gain any further, shall we say, legs up the ladder, if they are going to be voting for sectarian politics and the politics of division through Sinn Fein."
The south is set for a General Election early next year, while the the SDLP and Sinn Fein will go head-to-head in Assembly elections and council elections planned for May in the north.
Sinn Fein, which has five TDs following the success of Pearse Doherty in the Donegal South West by-election in November, has been tipped to make gains in the Republic with voters expected to punish Fianna Fail in the wake of the International Monetary Fund bailout.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "What nonsense from Margaret Ritchie, a woman whose party claim to be republican, tells us she doesn't want to 'intrude' on Irish politics. This shows clearly their continued partitionist view and that they still wish to retain their cosy links with the parties who have caused the current economic crisis.
"Perhaps if Margaret had the courage of her convictions her party would join with us in engaging in national politics for the betterment of people's lives as opposed to trying to score cheap, silly points against Sinn Fein."