Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

SDLP won't run in North Belfast setting up Dodds v Finucane showdown - and stands aside in two other constituencies

Sinn Fein’s John Finucane and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds are the front runners in the North Belfast constituency (PA)
Sinn Fein’s John Finucane and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds are the front runners in the North Belfast constituency (PA)
Nichola Mallon
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

The SDLP has confirmed it will not be contesting three seats in the upcoming general election.

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The party is instead asking voters to back pro-Remain candidates in North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down.

Deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the decision was taken "unilaterally" by the party and denied it was a pact with Sinn Fein. She 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 Nichola Mallon, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, said: "This election is about Brexit. This is a critical election, we are at a point where we are at a serious threat to our peace process and our livelihoods from Brexit.

"We need to ensure that we maximise the Remain vote. We have been very clear that the absolute best thing is to send Remain MPs who are going to take their seats to vote against Brexit and vote against Boris."

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan welcomed the SDLP's move to stand aside in North Belfast.

"It is important that all the pro-Remain parties work collaboratively to maximise the number of pro-Remain candidates electively," he said.

When asked whether Sinn Fein will respond by withdrawing from the South Belfast contest Mr Sheehan said that he expected his party leadership to react "positively" to the SDLP move.

Alliance criticised the SDLP and UUP over their withdrawal from the constituency.

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.

Meanwhile, the incoming Ulster Unionist leader 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.

Mr Aiken said the party had made the decision not to stand after "discussions with senior political and community figures" in the area.

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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