19 February 1997
Sinn Fein willing to discuss electoral accommodation with SDLP
Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin in an exclusive article in today's Irish News has stated his party's willingness to explore openly an electoral accommodation with the SDLP.
The Sinn Fein Chairperson said such agreement in present circumstances has the potential for 8 constituencies to be won by nationalists. This would significantly reduce the unionists political strength and provides a convincing argument that there should be an agreed nationalist approach to this election.
Mr. Mc Laughlin pointed out that an agreed approach by the SDLP and Sinn Fein would guarantee nationalist representation in Newry/Armagh, South Down, West Tyrone and Mid Ulster. An accommodation between both parties would also maximise the potential to win North Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
The election of 7 or 8 non unionist MP's and the consequent reduction in unionist representation, would transform the political landscape here. It would send a timely message to the unionist leadership after their disgraceful antics at Drumcree last summer. It would send a clear message to the next British government. It would greatly enhance the demand for an inclusive, credible and effective peace process.
The full text of Mr. Mc Laughlin's article follows:
On 16th December last year and under the direction of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle, our six county Chairperson, Gearoid O' hEara, wrote to the SDLP Chairperson requesting clarification and information on the SDLP's position on electoral pacts which would maximise nationalist representation in the forthcoming Westminster election.
The formal SDLP response to this came in a letter which pointed out the decision taken at their Annual Conference empowering their executive to take that decision when and in the context of an election having been called. However, on January 5th in the Sunday Independent newspaper, the SDLP leader, John Hume, effectively ruled out an electoral arrangement with Sinn Fein.
This has caused considerable disappointment within the nationalist community. But the SDLP's position has not diminished the strong body of nationalist opinion in support of an electoral pact between the SDLP and Sinn Fein - a pact which would maximise nationalist representation and the election of MP's committed to building a credible and inclusive peace process.
Our party was pro-active in seeking to reach such an accommodation. Sinn Fein did not reject an electoral pact or agreement with the SDLP. It was the SDLP leadership which closed down this option. In our opinion non-unionist voters in the north want to maximise the strategic use of their voting power. They want to see the collective strength of the nationalist vote used to advance their civil, human and national rights and to see the peace process rebuilt. They know that the unionist parties, despite their political differences, have always been able to see the merits of maximising their representation. As a result of electoral pacts, and the split nationalist vote, the unionists have been able to secure representation in excess of their electoral support.
At a localised level it is scandalous that the Rev William Mc Crea or Ken Maginnis should be elected in nationalist constituencies. In these constituencies where MP's committed to the peace process and to equality can be elected, the SDLP's attitude could allow the return of unionist MP's, committed to obstructing the peace process, committed to a return to unionist domination, committed, as they were last summer, to walking over nationalist rights on the Garvaghy Road.
The Sinn Fein leadership understands the pressures within party politics especially at election time. In this context the SDLP leadership have gone for the easy option. It obviously has very legitimate reasons for keeping its own party unified. Paradoxically Sinn Fein also wants to see a unified SDLP. Unified behind and committed to a peace strategy. The quest for a lasting peace is not helped by internal party bickering. It demands united parties working together on points of agreement, independent in their own separate identity and analysis but prepared to set aside party political differences in the common good.
John Hume and Gerry Adams have shown how this can be done. The work has made a difference. This election presents a new opportunity to rebuild a credible peace process. It offers us all, and especially a new British government, a new opportunity to start afresh.
For all these reasons Sinn Fein is still prepared to explore openly and positively an electoral accommodation with the SDLP. The search for peace and the rebuilding of a credible peace process would undoubtedly be enhanced by a strengthened electoral mandate for both the SDLP and Sinn Fein and for our leaders who were, and remain, the prime movers in the search for a lasting peace settlement.
In present circumstances there is the potential for 8 constituencies to be won by nationalists. This would significantly reduce the unionist political strength and provides a convincing argument that there should be an agreed nationalist approach to this election.
The eight constituencies in question are;
West Belfast and Foyle, both of which will return a nationalist MP in any event.
Newry/Armagh and South Down, which are presently held by the SDLP but are vulnerable to a single unionist candidate in the context of a divided nationalist vote.
Mid-Ulster and West Tyrone were both substantially affected by the latest boundary revision and are now clearly nationalist constituencies. The strong Sinn Fein candidates in these two constituencies, Martin Mc Guinness in Mid-Ulster and Pat Doherty in West Tyrone, two of our most senior negotiators; give Sinn Fein the best chance of taking both seats. But here also a split in the nationalist vote could hand these two nationalist constituencies to the unionists.
North Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone are both winnable by nationalists but only in circumstances of exceptional and active co-operation between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is the leading non-unionist party in both these constituencies.
An agreed approach by the SDLP and Sinn Fein would guarantee nationalist representation in Newry/Armagh, South Down, West Tyrone and Mid-Ulster. An accommodation between both parties would also maximise the potential to win North Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
In the continued absence of an electoral pact with the SDLP, Sinn Fein will contest as many constituencies as possible. But we are still prepared to discuss every single constituency with the SDLP leadership in order to make sure that every effort is made to rectify unionist misrepresentation of some constituencies and to maximise nationalist and republican representation.
The election of 7 or 8 non unionist MP's and the consequent reduction in unionist representation, would transform the political landscape here. It would send a timely message to the unionist leaderships after their disgraceful antics at Drumcree last summer. It would send a clear message to the next British government. It would greatly enhance the demand for an inclusive, credible and effective peace process.
This election is a unique occasion and a unique opportunity. The issues of nationalist rights, of equality and of peace among the people of this island are by far the most important issues in this election.
The peace process needs a British government which can act without any dependence on either unionist parties. It also demands the election of the maximum number of nationalist representatives committed to the achievement of a lasting peace on this island.
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