Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Sinn Fein pulls out of three constituencies in race for Westminster seats

By Ralph Hewitt and Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein has said it won't run candidates in three constituencies in the forthcoming December General Election.

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The party urged Alliance to consider its anti-pact stance as it announced its decision not to stand candidates in South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down.

The party said it wanted to see Naomi Long elected in East Belfast, Claire Hanna in South Belfast and Lady Sylvia Hermon returned in North Down. The Alliance leader is seeking a return to Westminster, while Lady Hermon has yet to declare if she will run.

"The stakes are high in this election," said Michelle O'Neill in a press conference on Monday afternoon.

It comes after the UUP and SDLP pulled out of the contest for North Belfast pitting Sinn Fein's John Finucane against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. The SDLP is also not running in North Down or East Belfast.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the party's move was not part of a pact saying they took the decision "unilaterally".

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald "warmly welcomed" the SDLP's decision. She said their move was down to getting as many pro-remain MPs elected as possible and those candidates with a "vision for a positive future".

“You can call this a pact, you can call it what you wish, the reality is that we're asking people to come out and to vote for those pro-remain candidates," she added.

"This is in many ways a once in a generation election, the stakes are very high and people have a fundamental choice to make to vote for a positive, inclusive future or to turn their backs on that and back candidates who have been the architect for Brexit and acted very deliberately against the democratic wishes of people here in the north.

“Over the last number of years we have worked closely with pro-remain parties and Michelle O'Neill has led that effort.

“We have been aware in Sinn Fein that we need to do everything we can to protect the interest of every citizen that lives here and that means respecting and standing up for the pro-remain position.

“We believe that is the right thing to do and at the highest level that reflects the interests of people here in the north of Ireland.”

On Monday morning the SDLP confirmed it will not be contesting North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down.

Deputy leader Nichola Mallon would not be drawn on if she would herself, or advise others, to vote Sinn Fein in the constituency.

"Given the reality of our political situation," she said, "We need to remove as much as possible the very toxic pro-Brexit, pro-Boris DUP MPs, who over their antics over the last two years have done nothing to represent the interests of the people of Northern Ireland."

The move prompted former Lisburn councillor Mairia Cahill to quit the party over what she described as a "grubby sectarian pact dressed up as a remain one".

It will be the first time in the SDLP's history that it will not be putting forward a candidate in North Belfast.

MLA John Blair said the move "reinforced" the profile of the two main parties and "contradicted" what they had said on abstentionism and "progressive pro-remain positions". He said his party would put forward "a strong alternative" for the December 12 vote.

Ulster Unionist leader-designate Steve Aiken confirmed on Sunday his party would not field a candidate in North Belfast in a bid to avoid splitting the unionist vote and handing the seat to Sinn Fein's John Finuance. The announcement came after he said his party would contest all 18 seats.

Mr Aiken said the party had made the decision not to stand after "discussions with senior political and community figures" in the area and "in the context of threats and intimidation against Ulster Unionist Party staff and members".

MLA Doug Beattie dismissed a suggestion threats from loyalist paramilitary groups forced the party's move. He said had no one put their name forward to run, he would have put his name on the ballot paper in North Belfast.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the UUP's move, saying unionist parties must work together.

"They know that they cannot win in North Belfast and that first class representation is already provided by Nigel Dodds," she said.

"I have a strong sense that unionism across Northern Ireland wants to see unionist parties working together for the Union."

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