Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland parties all move into general election footing

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and deputy leader Nichola Mallon with former party Brexit spokeswoman Claire Hanna in a pre-election show of unity

NORTHERN Ireland's political parties have effectively put themselves on a general election footing as the tumultuous proceedings in Westminster gather pace.

While DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted earlier this week the party doesn't "believe it is the right time because what we should be concentrating on is getting a deal", East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said yesterday it would support the British government calling one "to deliver the referendum result."

Mrs Foster has been stressing what she described as the party's "record of delivery for NI", citing the £1 billion from the confidence and supply agreement with the Tories which she said has been used "to support schools, roads, hospitals, mental health services and rural broadband".

She insisted the party is "not afraid of elections", despite a recent Lucid Talk poll suggesting it could lose at least one seat.

It predicted a continued Alliance Party surge, with party members taking to social media to urge voters to back them in order to "break the DUP stranglehold on Westminster and our future".

Meanwhile, the SDLP leadership team of Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon publicised a meeting with former Brexit spokeswoman Claire Hanna, who quit the role over the party's new formal links with Fianna Fail.

Afterwards, Ms Hanna said all "agreed that no issue is more important now than sending anti-chaos MPs to fight for people here and we believe I'm best placed to win the confidence of south Belfast voters" - the first candidate to be formally unveiled by a party.

Mr Eastwood added: "to stop Boris Johnson and stop Brexit every seat counts".

Green Party deputy leader Mal O'Hara told the Irish News it had never stopped "campaigning on local and broader issues".

"Certainly campaigning for a General Election will bring a different focus but we are very much concentrated on demanding a People's Vote and tackling climate breakdown.

"The Brexit induced Westminster chaos has meant that a general election has been on the cards for some time.

"Our party executive has been putting the necessary mechanisms in place to ensure that we're ready when a general election is called.

"... We are determined not to allow Boris Johnson and his Brexit obsessed right-wingers to pull Northern Ireland out of the European Union against the express wishes of the people here."

Meanwhile, the UUP leadership has been publicly meeting retail bodies and community and voluntary sector leaders in a series of soft campaign set pieces.

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