SDLP rule out pact with Sinn Fein

The SDLP will not enter into any pacts or deals with Sinn Fein, according to its leader Mike Nesbitt.

The SDLP will not enter into any pacts or deals with Sinn Fein, according to its leader Mike Nesbitt.

Speaking last month to the Ulster Unionist Party’s annual conference, Nesbitt said his party would be prepared to enter into an electrical pact with the DUP in order to boost the prospects of unionist representation in a number of seats at the General Election next year.

In response, Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness called on the SDLP to withdraw its Assembly and Westminster candidates for Fermanagh South Tyrone, Upper Bann and North Belfast in an effort to “maximise representation of progressive Pro Agreement parties” and “challenge the negative agenda of the anti-agreement unionist axis”.

Sinn Fein would, in return, he said, stand candidates down in those seats where the SDLP would benefit most from such a move.

Speaking to the SDLP’s conference on the outskirts of Belfast however over the weekend, SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell ruled out such an agreement, declaring that his party’s principles were “not for sale”.

He expanded:

“Don’t think the SDLP will dilute our policies or our values in favour of a pact. The SDLP policies and principles and values aren’t for sale.”

He went on to raise the prospect of the SDLP, which currently has one minister at Stormont, leaving the government altogether. Noting that the party is using ongoing talks over how the political institutions in Northern Ireland work, along with how to resolve thorny issues from the past, parades and flags, McDonnell noted that he continues to call for a properly constituted opposition at the Assembly.

He went on to warn however:

“In the meantime if other parties don’t get to grips with their responsibilities and we can’t settle on an agreed way forward then we will reserve the right to operate from a position of constructive opposition. The present structures do not stop us from opposing bad legislation or from highlighting the flaws and the problems with the two bigger parties. Nor do they stop us from saying ‘no’.”

“We will not be part of a broken and politically bankrupt Executive if it doesn’t get its act together . . . Opposition has to have clearer definition and serve the public interest. It is however an option we will reserve, we will review and we will evaluate on an ongoing basis.”

Responding to the speech, McGuinness dubbed it a “serious political mistake”. “I believe the SDLP’s negative response is”, he said, “an ill-thought out, knee-jerk reaction and represents a lost opportunity.”

“It demonstrates a lack of strategic vision on the part of the SDLP and points up the need for more innovative and forward-looking politics which can effectively counter the unionist anti-Agreement axis,” he added.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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