Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin silent on whether Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is potential South Belfast Westminster candidate

It remains unclear whether former Stormont finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is among the party's potential candidates to contest South Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

SINN Féin has declined to say whether former Stormont finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is among the party's potential candidates to contest South Belfast in December's Westminster election.

The party is scheduled to select its candidate for the snap poll on Friday night.

Mr Ó Muilleoir has been the Sinn Féin South Belfast candidate in the past two general elections but there has been speculation in recent weeks that the party may unilaterally step aside in the constituency giving the SDLP's Claire Hanna a greater chance of unseating the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly.

Sinn Féin, which pulled out of the 2010 Westminster election in South Belfast, is hoping the SDLP will reciprocate in North Belfast where the city's lord mayor John Finucane is aiming to overturn DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds's 2,081 majority.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill yesterday said her party was seeking to unseat "an architect of Brexit" in North Belfast, increasing the abstentionist party's Westminster representation from seven to eight in the process.

The Mid Ulster MLA said December's election was about maximising the number of pro-Remain candidates.

"We will stand in our seven constituencies in which we currently hold seats and we will stand in North Belfast to win that seat," she said.

"We believe there is a real opportunity in North Belfast to oust someone who has been architect of Brexit, someone who has actively worked against the interests of people who live here on this island, and John Finucane can provide local representation but also will reflect Ireland's interests in all of this mess."

Asked about her party's suggested anti-Brexit electoral pact with other parties, Ms O'Neill said: "I have had conversations with the other party leaders in terms of how we can maximise the pro-Remain candidates returned in this election, but I suppose it will be for the electorate to pass judgment on that.

"As I stand here there hasn't been a positive response from the other party leaders."

Earlier, the incoming leader of the Ulster Unionist Party came under pressure on his stance over a unionist electoral pact.

Steve Aiken has said his party will stand candidates in all 18 Westminster seats.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the stance will mean a "unionist dogfight", and warned this could risk unionists losing seats to Sinn Féin.

Unionist rivals the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) said agreed candidates in certain constituencies is a "no-brainer".

The DUP is understood to be keen to pursue the arrangement in North Belfast where Mr Dodds' narrow majority is expected to come under pressure from Mr Finucane.

Mr Aiken said his party will run candidates in all 18 constituencies, "because we cannot in all right turn round and say to the people of Northern Ireland: 'Vote for a pact with the DUP, support the DUP - the party who put a border down the Irish Sea"'.

Mr Donaldson told the BBC on Wednesday: "I just don't understand where Steve Aiken is coming from, that he proposes we have a unionist dogfight in the middle of the most important election in decades.

"I don't think they stand a chance of winning the seat in the constituencies where they will split the vote."

Later, a TUV spokesman said: "As TUV determines its position over the coming days regarding the upcoming general election, one thing is clear to us - the folly of gifting seats to Sinn Fein. Any party that sets such a course is not serving the Union."

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