Northern Ireland

General election 2017: SDLP rejects Sinn Féin call

Colum Eastwood and Michelle O'Neill
Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood rejected Michelle O'Neill's call for the party to stand aside in two constituencies

The SDLP has rejected a call by Sinn Féin to stand aside in two constituencies in the general election.

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Féin's northern leader, said the SDLP should "do the right thing" and not field candidates in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and North Belfast.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the party will "stand on its own two feet".

The news came on the same day the two main unionist parties failed to strike an electoral pact deal.

Mrs O'Neill called on the SDLP to withdraw their candidates in the two constituencies, but did not offer to withdraw any Sinn Féin candidates in exchange.

When asked what the SDLP would gain from such an offer, she said: "They get the maximum number of MPs returned which are going to be anti-Brexit, which is their position."

However, Mr Eastwood rejected the offer citing Sinn Féin's policy of abstentionism at Westminster.

"We're not interested in standing aside for a political party that won't even take their seats to go and vote against Brexit, to go and vote against Tory cuts or to do any of that.

"They just want more seats for no particular reason, whatsoever.

"So, no, the SDLP will stand on its own two feet in this election, and run very hard in those constituencies to try to make sure we get a strong pro-European voice actually going to Westminster and making the case for people here."

No formal unionist pact

Earlier, DUP leader Arlene Foster and UUP leader Robin Swann said they had not agreed an overall election pact but would continue to discuss better unionist co-operation beyond the election.

They have agreed to stand aside in certain constituencies to avoid splitting the unionist vote.

The DUP will give the UUP a free run in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the Ulster Unionists returned the favour in North Belfast - both seats where outgoing unionist MPs face strong challenges from nationalist Sinn Féin candidates.

However, there had been speculation about a wider deal covering seats like South Belfast and East Belfast, where there was a unionist pact two years ago. in which only a single candidate for the two parties stood in either constituency.

In a joint statement, the two party leaders said they wanted to see "the strongest possible vote for pro-union candidates standing in all of the 18 constituencies across Northern Ireland".

"While our parties have not concluded any formal pact arrangements on this occasion we are resolved to continue discussions in the interests of better unionist co-operation beyond this election period."

Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election for 8 June in April.

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