SDLP rejects Sinn Féin call for Westminster electoral pact

Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell says he opposes ‘sectarian head count’ politics

 

The SDLP has turned down a call from Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for an electoral pact for May’s Westminster general election. SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said he would not participate in “sectarian head-count” politics.

Mr McGuinness yesterday promised to reciprocate if the SDLP gave Sinn Féin a free run in three constituencies, North Belfast, Upper Bann and Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Mr McGuinness issued his call after the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party appeared to be getting closer on agreeing a pact in a number of seats.

At the recent Ulster Unionist Party annual conference, party leader Mike Nesbitt offered not to run a candidate in North Belfast to give DUP MP Nigel Dodds a better chance of holding the seat against Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly.

 

Joint candidate

In return he asked that the DUP not stand against a UUP candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone to try to take the seat from Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew.

 

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson responded yesterday by offering to run a joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone and for the UUP to stand aside in North Belfast.

Potentially there could also be agreements between the DUP and UUP in constituencies such as East Belfast, where the DUP is trying to take back the seat won by Alliance’s Naomi Long from Mr Robinson in 2010, and in South Belfast where a single unionist candidate could threaten SDLP leader Dr McDonnell’s seat.

 

Tory assault

Mr McGuinness entered the debate by seeking a pact with the SDLP on North Belfast, Fermanagh South Tyrone and in Upper Bann where it would appear to have a fairly slim chance of taking the seat from the DUP’s David Simpson.

 

Calling for a pact to “maximise pro-[Belfast] Agreement representation Mr McGuinness said, “If the SDLP choose to stand in these constituencies they risk handing these seats to anti-agreement unionists.”

“This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism and provide allies and support for a future Tory assault on public services,” he said.