Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Could Northern Ireland's pro-Remain parties form a pact in time for election?

Claire Hanna (SDLP), Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin) and Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) at a recent promotional event in Belfast
Claire Hanna (SDLP), Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin) and Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) at a recent promotional event in Belfast
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Amidst all the drama in the Commons in recent days, there has been just a solitary anti-Brexit voice from Northern Ireland in the chamber.

Despite a 56% Remain vote, only Lady Sylvia Hermon articulates concerns about binning the backstop and a hard border.

With an election on the cards next month or in November, our four pro-Remain parties have the opportunity to work together to improve representation.

Just last month, the Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Green leaders sent a joint letter to European Council President Donald Tusk in support of the backstop.

But can they now take it one step further and form a pro-Remain electoral pact? Green leader Clare Bailey has written to the three other parties asking for talks on agreed candidates.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill has signalled a willingness to co-operate with other pro-Remain parties to challenge DUP Brexiteer candidates.

In reality, a four party pact across a range of constituencies is a non-runner.

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Sinn Fein's John Finucane is the only pro-Remain candidate likely to unseat Nigel Dodds.

But given his party doesn't take its seats in Westminster, there seems little likelihood that Alliance or the SDLP would stand aside for him.

Alliance is no longer a party in favour of pacts. In 2001, it stood aside to help Lady Hermon unseat Bob McCartney in North Down. But it complained loudly about unionists parties doing the same to wrest East Belfast from Mrs Long in 2015 so it won't be giving anybody else a free run now.

Alliance is the main challenger to the DUP in East Belfast but even with a pact Gavin Robinson should still be safe.

South Belfast and North Down are the most interesting constituencies. Again, Alliance won't be standing aside in either.

Paula Bradshaw and the SDLP's likely candidate, Claire Hanna, will both be vying to present themselves as the only woman who can unseat Emma Little-Pengelly.

What the Greens do here will be key.

The party's vote in South Belfast has grown signficantly in recent years and there are strong arguments why it should run.

Yet there were noises from the Greens in the 2017 election suggesting they would be prepared to stand aside for an SDLP candidate but not Dr Alasdair McDonnell who was strongly anti-abortion.

Might there be a different decision if the candidate was Ms Hanna who would be much more palatable to Green voters in the constituency?

Former Green leader Steven Agnew ran against Lady Hermon in North Down in 2017. But the DUP coming within 1,000 votes of unseating her may have changed his party's position in that constiutency.

The Greens have no reaslitic chance of winning any Westminister seat but there is a big call to be made by Ms Bailey who could be queen-maker for a pro-Remain candidate in two constituencies.

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