Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein targeting Dodds' seat as party aim for eight MPs with John Finucane victory

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Sinn Fein have set their sights on DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds' North Belfast seat in the upcoming general election.

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Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said her party was hoping to have all seven of the party's serving MPs returned and a victory in North Belfast taking them to eight.

Lord Mayor of Belfast John Finucane will be Sinn Fein's candidate for the seat which Mr Dodds has held since 2001.

In the 2017 general election Mr Finucane lost out on the seat by just 2,081 votes.

His chances could be boosted by the decision from UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken to run a candidate in North Belfast, with Mr Aiken vowing his party will contest every constituency.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the move could "hand the seat to Sinn Fein".

The party's Chief Whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that splitting the unionist vote in North Belfast is "just madness at this time" and urged Mr Aiken to reconsider.

Mr Aiken said his party will run candidates in all 18 constituencies, "because we cannot in all right turn round and say to the people of Northern Ireland: 'Vote for a pact with the DUP, support the DUP - the party who put a border down the Irish Sea'".

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Michelle O'Neill speaking to media today at Sinn Féin Offices, Falls Road alongside Chris Hazzard and John Finucane. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

Ms O'Neill addressed the media in west Belfast on Wednesday after MPs voted in favour of an election on December 12.

She said the North Belfast contest was an "opportunity to oust an architect of Brexit", referring to Mr Dodds. who played a role in the Leave campaign ahead of the 2016 EU Referendum.

"(Mr Dodds is) someone who has actively worked against the interests of people who live here on this island, and John Finucane will provide local representation but also will reflect Ireland's interests in all of this mess," Ms O'Neill said.

"Our intention in this election will be to return the seven Sinn Fein MPs who are currently in position and also to elect John Finucane in North Belfast.

She described the election as being called "on the backdrop of chaos and bedlam at Westminster".

"I think the public have had enough of it, the uncertainty people here live under for the past three years just isn't good enough," she said.

"It will be an opportunity for the public to once again reject the Tory/DUP axis, to reject the Brexit that has been foisted upon us.

"We voted to remain, and I daresay if we did so again today, we would vote in even larger numbers."

The Mid Ulster MLA said she had not had a positive response after talks with party leaders about a pro-Remain electoral pact.

The Alliance Party have ruled out standing aside in any constituency while the SDLP said that talks were ongoing.

"I have taken the lead on the progressive parties coming together in terms of the Brexit conversation. Time and time again we have stood on a common platform to protect the Good Friday Agreement, to have our special unique circumstances reflected," Ms O'Neill said.

"I have had conversations with the other party leaders in terms of how we can maximise the pro-remain candidates returned in this election but I suppose it will be for the electorate to pass judgement on that.

"As I stand here today, there hasn't been a positive response from the other party leaders.

"We are day one in a campaign. I believe that the public want us to maximise the pro-Remain candidates returned. I believe the public will send that message very clearly and have no doubt all the parties will hear that on the doorsteps."

Additional reporting by PA

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