Northern Ireland

NI Labour candidates warned not to stand in assembly election

The BBC has obtained a letter from the Labour Party warning Northern Ireland members that they could face expulsion if they stand as candidates in the assembly election.

Image caption Members of the NILRC have been told they will be ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party if they stand in the assembly election

Eight members have defied the party's hierarchy to stand in next week's poll.

The Labour Party says it does not currently stand candidates in Northern Ireland.

Local members are running under the banner 'Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee' (NILRC).

The letter to candidates, from party official Iain McNichol, says any member who supports a political organisation other than the official Labour group "shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a member of the party".

Mr McNichol has also asked the NILRC candidates to stop using "Labour Party trademarks, branding or other copyrighted Labour Party material" to support their campaign.

He adds: "You must also refrain from giving the impression, by action or inaction, that your campaign is in any way endorsed by the Labour Party or by the Northern Ireland Labour Party."

He says local candidates, under the umbrella of the NILRC, have being trying to "pass off [their] candidature as an official Labour Party campaign, or officially endorsed by the Labour Party. This is not the case".

Image caption Iain McNichol says NILRC candidates are not officially endorsed by the Labour Party

Mr McNichol says the matters have been referred to the party's National Executive Committee Panel, which is undertaking a review concerning elections in Northern Ireland.

Mr McNichol, who is the party's general secretary, ends his letter by asking candidates to explain how they intend to bring themselves "back in compliance with the national rules of the Labour Party".

Kathryn Johnston, who is vice-chair of the Labour Party Northern Ireland, said she was confident the NILRC candidates had not broken any party rules.

Image caption Kathryn Johnston says she is confident no party rules have been broken

Speaking at the manifesto launch at the Belfast headquarters of the union UNITE, Ms Johnston said the eight candidates were standing because local supporters could "not wait any longer".

She said she had received a letter from Iain McNichol and told the BBC: "I was surprised that someone has actually taken the time to sit down and write a letter saying that Labour can't stand in the Northern Ireland election, when we have 1800 members and supporters."

She added: "It just absolutely beggars belief that the party who marched in Derry in the days of civil rights for one man, one vote, would deny 1800 of us the right to vote for a candidate of our choice."

Earlier this month, a Labour Party spokesperson told the BBC: "The Labour Party does not currently stand candidates in Northern Ireland. The NEC has committed to conducting a review of our current position in Northern Ireland once every parliament, and that review is ongoing."

Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee candidates are standing in eight constituencies.

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