Northern Ireland news

SDLP to give Sinn Féin's John Finucane a free run in North Belfast

Michelle O'Neill said John Finucane was seeking to unseat 'an architect of Brexit' in North Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

THE SDLP is to stand aside in North Belfast, handing Sinn Féin’s John Finucane a greater chance of ousting sitting MP Nigel Dodds, The Irish News can reveal.

The SDLP has also chosen not to field candidates in North Down and East Belfast in a bid to maximise the chances of a pro-Remain candidate being returned in both constituencies.

The SDLP’s move comes as the UUP announced it will not be standing in North Belfast to give Mr Dodds a free run.

The party insists the unilateral action is not part of a pact and according to deputy leader Nichola Mallon is aimed at “removing pro-Brexit, pro-Boris (Johnson), DUP MPs where possible”.

The move is expected to bring further pressure on Sinn Féin to stand aside in South Belfast, where the SDLP’s Claire Hanna is seeking to unseat the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly and the republican party's previous candidate Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is believed to be leaving politics.

The Alliance Party has so far refused to countenance a pact with other pro-Remain parties.

Ms Mallon called on other pro-Remain parties to “seriously consider their strategies in the days ahead”.

“We must maximise the pro-Europe vote across Northern Ireland,” she said.

The DUP announced that it again will not be standing in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew is defending a majority of of 875.

Analysis: Sensible SDLP move puts pressure on other pro-Remain parties

In the 2017 Westminster election, Mr Dodds had a majority of 2,081 votes over John Finucane with the then SDLP candidate, Martin McAuley securing 2,058 votes. Even with the SDLP in the race in 2017, the DUP and SF took 88 per cent of the vote between them.

Ms Mallon told The Irish News last night that December’s snap Westminster poll was a “defining and extraordinary election”.

“Our peace and political dispensation is under siege from Brexit zealots in London who are willing to sink an axe of simplicity into the layered and fragile complexities of relationships on this island,” she said.

“The scale of the threat we’re facing demands bold and definitive action, even where that is unprecedented and uncomfortable for us.”

The SDLP is effectively supporting the campaign of Sinn Féin's John Finucane who will not take his seat and vote against Brexit at Westminster should he win on December 12, however, Ms Mallon said her party's objective was to “return as many pro-Remain MPs who will take their seats and vote to stop Brexit".

The North Belfast MLA said her party was “totally opposed to abstentionism”, describing it as a “political tactic that has benefitted Brexiteers”.

“Being opposed to this government is only half the battle, you have to vote against them as well,” she said.

“But we are pragmatic enough to understand that replacing three pro-Brexit MPs in Belfast could be critical in Westminster.”

She said the DUP had “cast the interests of Northern Ireland aside for five minutes of influence with a Tory government”.

“It is abhorrent to our voters and to the pro-Europe citizens of Belfast and beyond that we have so many MPs who have spent three years since the referendum actively pursuing a political ideology which is damaging to Northern Ireland, has been rejected by the business community and civic society and which directly contradicts the democratically expressed wishes of people here – that has to change,” she said.

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