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SDLP man’s U-turn over nationalist unity plea

An SDLP Assembly Member has been forced into a humiliating U-turn after he backed down over calls for the formation of a single nationalist party.

North Antrim MLA Declan O’Loan was told to withdraw the statement calling for nationalist unity — just hours after he issued it — following a “furious” reaction from colleagues.

Earlier, in a statement not issued through the SDLP Press office, Mr O’Loan said there had been strong support when he raised the issue with grassroots members in his constituency.

It prompted accusations of hypocrisy from the DUP after SDLP claims of a sectarian carve-up over the fielding of a unionist unity candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone during the General Election.

Mr O’Loan later withdrew the original statement, stating that it “does not represent established party policy”.

He declined to comment further when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph last night.

However, sources told this newspaper that the retraction came after a “furious” reaction from party colleagues.

“There was a fair bit of pressure from people in the party and in the Assembly,” one said.

Another said Mr O’Loan had been told “in no uncertain terms” to withdraw his remarks.

Before retracting his statement, Mr O'Loan had said: “I believe that a major realignment of northern nationalism is now called for and I think that this means the formation of a new single nationalist party. The values of the SDLP and its ability to command respect and at least second preference votes across the whole community are not something that should be lost.

“In the interests of achieving Irish unity, that respect is vital.”

The SDLP declined to comment on the issue.

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt, who lost out to Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast, accused the SDLP of hypocrisy.

“Alasdair McDonnell said it was totally sectarian when it was suggested (fielding a single unionist candidate) in South Belfast. Calling the pot black now springs to mind,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph