SDLP refuses to challenge unionist election pact

The SDLP has rejected Sinn Fein’s request to counter the challenge by a united unionist campaign to oust two sitting nationalist MPs from their Westminster seats.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said there was “anger, dismay and disappointment” at the decision of the SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to reject Sinn Fein attempts to maximise nationalist representation following the pact between the two main unionist parties.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew is facing a combined DUP/UUP/Conservative effort to win the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat. The SDLP candidate is set to split the nationalist vote and allow the unionist, Rodney Connor, to represent the predominately nationalist constituency.

In south Belfast, meetings are still ongoing on a united unionist campaign take the seat held by the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell. Sinn Fein has offered to boost McDonnell’s campaign by standing down its candidate in the constituency, Alex Maskey.

Ms Ritchie insisted she would not be party to such a pact because it would be “sectarian”

Pointing out that both her party and Sinn Fein had criticised the unionist pact as a “sectarian headcount”, she said she was “disappointed” to receive an appeal for a joint response.

“It is my strong view that this election must be about a positive future, about fulfilling the hopes of our people and shaping politics to deliver on the needs of the community.

“The actions of all parties should be judged against these standards. In doing so, no one should cling to the failed politics of the past.”

ASinn Fein spokesman criticised the SDLP leader for not considering the proposal.

“The SDLP refused to even meet for discussions,” he said. “Nationalists generally, but especially in these constituencies, will be dismayed and angry that the SDLP refused to even talk about this.”

In outlining her opposition to the suggestion, Ritchie also criticised the Sinn Fein policy of not taking its seats in Westminster.

However, Ms Gildernew said in Moy, County Tyrone, that the SDLP leader should visit Fermanagh-South Tyrone to explain why “she wants to give a leg up to a unionist Tory”.

Mr Adams also wrote a letter to Ms Ritchie in which he was highly critical of her and her party.

But he also said that the SDLP and Sinn Fein had an “opportunity and a shared responsibility to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for the entire community from the forthcoming election”.

“It remains my view that we should co-operate towards this objective,” he added.

Nominations for the election close at 4pm next Tuesday.

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