Political news

SDLP select press officer and post office manager to fight Westminster seats

SDLP press officer Martin McAuley is the party's surprise candidate in North Belfast

THE SDLP's press officer has been selected as the party's Westminster candidate in North Belfast, while one of its councillors will contest Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

Martin McAuley, who previously stood in the 2010 general election in North Belfast as a 19-year-old independent, is an LGBT rights advocate from Ardoyne.

Most observers had expected former Belfast mayor Nichola Mallon to be the candidate, despite being heavily pregnant.

Instead Mr McAuley will join a field including outgoing MP Nigel Dodds and high-profile solicitor John Finucane, who was unveiled as Sinn Féin's surprise choice in place of party veteran Gerry Kelly last week.

Mr Finucane's selection has been seen as an attempt to broaden Sinn Féin's appeal as it seeks to take the seat from the DUP.

Sinn Féin North Belfast candidate John Finucane with Michelle O'Neill at the Electoral Office in Newtownabbey. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Alliance yesterday also named party campaigns officer Sam Nelson as its North Belfast candidate.

Mr McAuley said the electorate had voted against Brexit but their voice was being ignored.

"Theresa May wants a mandate for a hard Brexit, a hard border and even harsher austerity – that will devastate communities like North Belfast," he said.

The announcements by the SDLP came less than 24 hours before today's 4pm deadline for the receipt of candidate nominations.

In Fermanagh-South Tyrone, its candidate will be councillor Mary Garrity.

Mary Garrity is the SDLP candidate in Fermanagh-South Tyrone

A post office manager from Trillick, Co Tyrone, Ms Garrity was first elected to Fermanagh and Omagh Council in May 2014 and her performance will be closely watched in a constituency where just a few hundred votes separated the UUP's Tom Elliott and Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew in 2015.

The SDLP plans to field candidates in each of the north's 18 constituencies, with councillor Tim Attwood standing in West Belfast and Séamas de Faoite contesting East Belfast.

Leader Colum Eastwood claimed a vote for his party was that the best way to fight a hard Brexit.

"We need MPs who will take a stand against the Tory elite – that means taking your seat and voting against them."

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill also lodged her nomination papers yesterday alongside colleagues.

However, last night the party had yet to select candidates to run in Lagan Valley and North Down.

Ms O'Neill said Sinn Féin's team would "go out and stand very firmly against the Tory Brexit and cuts agenda".

"This is a self-serving election for the Tories who are only interested in their own selfish party interest," she said.

"They have disregarded the people here in the north of Ireland who clearly voted to stay within the European Union."

Earlier this week Sinn Féin urged the SDLP to step aside in constituencies where it had no prospect of winning, claiming it was fielding "spoiler candidates" in North Belfast and Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

The SDLP rejected the call and accused Sinn Féin of "sitting at home" instead of making its voice heard at Westminster.

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