Alliance leader Naomi Long defends stance on 'divisive and sectarian' electoral pacts
Alliance leader Naomi Long has defended her party's opposition to electoral pacts in the upcoming General Election.
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Mrs Long said she feels voters should have a choice of parties to back and "should not be told who they can or cannot vote for". She said local parties were treating voters as "commodities" to be traded in the discussions around who should stand.
In the past week, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Green Party have announced they will stand aside in several constituencies in order to maximise the chances of a pro-Remain candidate being elected.
- General Election: Alliance's Farry backing on Remain support to see off DUP in North Down
- Greens opt out of Belfast to aid Pro-Remainers
- SDLP won't run in North Belfast setting up Dodds v Finucane showdown - and stands aside in two other constituencies
- Sinn Fein not standing candidates in three seats in bid to defeat pro-Brexit DUP
Sinn Fein said they will not run candidates in South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down, while the SDLP are not standing in North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down. The Greens will not contest any Belfast seat.
The Ulster Unionists have also announced they will not contest North Belfast, in the hopes that the DUP's Nigel Dodds will retain the seat.
Alliance, however, has firmly voiced its opposition to electoral pacts, with many accusing the party of potential splitting the remain vote in key constituencies.
Speaking on the BBC's The View programme, Alliance leader Naomi Long said electoral pacts in Northern Ireland have become "divisive and sectarian".
"Part of the reason why we wouldn't stand aside in North Belfast is: what would be the point? We could end up actually assisting Sinn Fein in getting elected," she explained.
"They have taken their position, and it is a legitimate political position, not to take their seats in Westminster. I would rather have an Alliance MP that would actually turn up."
She continued: "I always hear the same rhetoric, that we're going to split the vote, that we're going to stop people getting elected. I was told the same thing back in 2010 when I ran in East Belfast, that I should stand aside, that I was a splitter, that it was going to be an Ulster Unionist seat, that I was going to let Peter Robinson back in.
"Democracy has a pattern. We work together between elections, but at elections we can test them and it is the public who decide.
"The pattern of these pacts has ended up, however the were intended, has ended up being very divisive and sectarian.
Mrs Long said Sylvia Hermon's name had been "commandeered" by pro-remain parties "so they could say they had a unionist on board", without consulting her about her intention to run in North Down.
"We're not in favour of unionists standing in unionist pacts, of nationalists standing in nationalist pacts - we want to see people voting for genuine cross-community voices," she said.
Mrs Long also defended her party choosing to stand Paula Bradshaw in South Belfast, a seat currently held by the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly.
In the 2017 poll, the DUP candidate narrowly defeated the SDLP incumbent Alasdair McDonnell, who had held the seat since 2005. The SDLP's Claire Hanna is thought to be Emma Little Pengelly's biggest challenge in the upcoming election.
Naomi Long, however, cited Alliance's performance in May's council elections, where they returned six councillors in the south Belfast area, as evidence of Ms Bradshaw's potential to fair well in the constituency.
Belfast Telegraph Digital