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Labour says no to Northern Ireland

The British and Irish Labour parties have agreed not to contest elections in Northern Ireland.

The decision is partly as a result of pressure from the SDLP and fears that they might damage it in its fight with Sinn Fein.

UK Labour’s National Executive last night decided not to contest elections here, where the party has around 350 members, for the time being.

Legally the decision, which will be announced next week, must be reviewed in every parliament.

Instead they propose talking to the SDLP and Irish Labour about setting up a consultative forum to advance their joint interests.

The Belfast Telegraph has obtained a confidential paper presented to the NEC’s Organisation Committee.

It outlines advice given to the party by both Irish Labour (ILP) and the SDLP.

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It says that the ILP was “convinced that if either party became involved in Northern Irish electoral politics it would be to the detriment of the SDLP, which is already weakened by the rise of Sinn Fein. They had grave misgivings about harming a sister party in that way”.

There will be some surprise at the stance taken by the SDLP,

which generally supports Labour at Westminster.

Last March, party leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell told both the Belfast Telegraph and BBC that he had no objections to UK Labour standing in single transferable vote elections like local government and Stormont but drew the line at Westminster contests.

Labour got a tougher message when it met SDLP MPs in London.

The report says: “SDLP representatives spoke strongly against the prospect of the Labour Party standing candidates in Northern Ireland. They said it would be seen as a hostile act which would cause a deterioration in the relationship between the SDLP and the Labour Party. In Westminster the SDLP votes with the Labour Party on almost every occasion and considers itself a sister party.”

The report states “it is the view of the NEC Review Panel that it is not advisable for the Labour Party to start organising electorally in Northern Ireland” although the Northern Ireland Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had “submitted a request to run candidates in local elections”.

Instead, Labour proposes forming a “consultative forum” with the ILP and SDLP with a view to formulating joint policies before the 2014 European elections “when all three parties will be seeking to return MEPs who will sit alongside one another in the Party of European Socialists”.

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