Ed Miliband rules out coalition with Northern Ireland or Scottish parties
Gerry Adams insists Sinn Féin will not end its Westminster abstentionist policy
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband visits Northern Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
*longer web version*
The British Labour leader Ed Miliband has dismissed the prospect entering into a coalition with Northern Ireland parties or with the Scottish National Party following a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.
While in Belfast, he insisted his focus is on achieving a single Labour government after the Westminster election in May, despite the fact that polls indicate some form of British coalition government may be inevitable.
This week a new poll found the Scottish National Party enjoyed 52 per cent support compared to just 28 per cent for Scottish Labour – which would indicate a routing of Labour in Scotland on May 7th polling day.
Asked about possible coalition, including with the SNP, Mr Miliband said: “My focus is very clear, I want a majority Labour government. I think a majority Labour government is what the country needs; that is what I am campaigning for.”
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined Mr Miliband for a Stormont Castle press conference. Mr Robinson made clear he believes the DUP could have a role to play in any new British government.
Both Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson said they would do business with whoever was in government in London. However, the First Minister added: “I hope that both the Labour party and the Conservative party have a good election, but not a great election. It allows greater influence for the smaller parties to have something to play for after the election.”
Sinn Féin has five MPs, although it doesn’t take its seats in the House of Commons due to its abstentionist policy. The SDLP has three seats which could mean that Sinn Féin and the SDLP could assist in propping up a Labour government in the event of a hung parliament in May.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who also met Mr Miliband at Stormont Castle, was insistent there would be no change in policy. “No,” he replied when asked would the party consider ending its abstentionist position if Mr Miliband sought Sinn Féin support.
On the next Irish general election, Mr Adams said Sinn Féin wanted to be in the next government but would not be a “junior party” party in government. “We are not going to do what Labour has done, we are not going to do what other small parties have done, we are not going to become a mudguard for the larger conservatives parties,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Miliband said that the UK exiting the European Union would be bad for Britain but “particularly bad” for Northern Ireland.
He told a Belfast conference on poverty and deprivation that leaving the EU “will be bad for the whole of Britain but particularly bad for the whole of Northern Ireland” because of the border with the Republic.
Mr Miliband, while pledging to tackle poverty and inequality in Northern Ireland, also made clear that if Labour elected to power in May that there would be no great loosening of the Treasury purse strings.
“We won’t have lots of money to spend, we face difficult times,” he said. Mr Miliband said it was vital to develop the Northern economy because Northern Ireland needed “economic progress to keep the peace process on track”.