Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Do not be fooled by the platitudes about Remain... SF/SDLP ‘pact’ is a pan-nationalist election carve-up

Deal is just an attempt to foist John Finucane and Claire Hanna on the NI electorate, argues Nelson McCausland

Sinn Fein’s John Finucane
Sinn Fein’s John Finucane

There’s nothing dull about the current general election campaign, on both sides of the water. The Conservative Party have got off to a bumpy start with some incautious comments from leading members and the resignation of a Cabinet minister.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Labour Movement has said that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister because of his “abject failure on anti-Semitism”.

On this side of the North Channel the focus has been on electoral pacts. Sinn Fein have decided to stand aside in three constituencies and the SDLP have already reciprocated by standing aside in North Belfast. Now, to most people that will look like an electoral pact covering North Belfast and South Belfast.

However, the SDLP have gone to great lengths to deny that there is a pan-nationalist pact and have claimed that there was “no discussion” between the two parties.

Are we really being asked to believe that there was “no discussion”? Really?

Now, we can understand why the SDLP are reluctant to admit that there is a pact — they are asking their supporters in North Belfast to vote for an abstentionist candidate, who would deny them any representation at Westminster on any issue.

That goes against everything they have always said about abstentionism and will damage the SDLP, whatever the outcome this time around.

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They have just abandoned one of their arguments for voting SDLP, rather than Sinn Fein, and that will come back to haunt them, especially since the SDLP have been losing ground to Sinn Fein for many years.

The Sinn Fein admission that the Shankill bomber Sean Kelly will be canvassing for John Finucane must be even more problematic for the SDLP.

The Shankill bomb was one of the worst atrocities during the Troubles and many folk will remember that, just 12 months ago, Kelly and senior Sinn Fein members were up at Milltown honouring the other bomber, Thomas Begley.

On a wider front, we have yet to hear what Fianna Fail, the SDLP’s new partners south of the border, think of this extramarital dalliance between their northern partner and Sinn Fein.

So, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP are presenting their pan-nationalist pact as an anti-Brexit pact — and that’s where East Belfast comes into play.

In East Belfast, Gavin Robinson of the DUP took almost 56% of the votes in 2017, with a galvanised unionist community consolidating behind him.

Naomi Long was a distant second on just 36% and, if she is to make up that shortfall of 20%, it will take a lot more than the paltry 2.1% that Sinn Fein polled in 2017.

However, East Belfast is merely a distraction. It allows Sinn Fein to dress their tactics up as an anti-Brexit package, but, in reality, it is an SDLP/Sinn Fein trade-off; a pan-nationalist agreement to give John Finucane a better chance in North Belfast and Claire Hanna a better chance in South Belfast.

Indeed, all the protestations about there being no pact — and certainly no pan-nationalist pact — have failed to convince former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill, who said the SDLP/Sinn Fein pact was being “dressed up” as a Remain pact.

Of course, there has been a tradition of unionist pacts, certainly since the days of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

But the two main unionist parties have much in common, not least their commitment to the Union, whereas the differences between the SDLP and Sinn Fein go back to the formation of the SDLP as the successor to the constitutional Nationalist Party, whereas Sinn Fein has its roots in the murderous Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Colum Eastwood is certainly taking the SDLP in a rather different direction than his predecessors and I suspect that a sizable section of the people who have voted SDLP in the past will flinch at his call to back an abstentionist, pro-abortion party that still eulogises terrorism.

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