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22 March 2001 Edition

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SDLP reject electoral pact

BY MICHAEL PIERSE

The SDLP has rejected the prospect of a ten-year electoral strategy pact with Sinn Féin that could have represented an effective countdown to a united Ireland, according to Mitchel McLaughlin, the chairperson of Sinn Féin.

McLaughlin outlined the ten-year plan to Alex Attwood of the SDLP on Tuesday. ``We put to them a very ambitious ten-year project that would have covered three Westminster elections, including a border poll referendum during that period. With demographic changes, this plan would be an effective countdown to a united Ireland,'' he said.

``Sinn Féin has consistently responded, in every election, to concerns about nationalist comminities being represented by unionist politicians. When we have broached these concerns to the SDLP, their response has consistently been the same also. They have involved themselves in soundbite politics and it is disappointing that they have put their own party's interests before the strategic interests of the people who elected them.''

The SDLP has criticised republicans for bringing the issue of an electoral pact into the public domain.

The proposed Sinn Féin-SDLP pact had offered the potential to overturn the unofficial pact that has existed between the DUP and the UUP for decades - a pact that has secured 13 of the 18 Westminster seats for unionist politicians. The potential of a nationalist-republican pact was to take 11 of those 18 seats and create a powerful dynamic towards Irish unity and behind the Good Friday Agreement.

So why, offered the opportunity to radically change Irish society for the better and topple those who are opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, have the SDLP unceremoniously walked away?

SDLP chairperson Alex Attwood was particularly bull-headed in his accusations that Sinn Féin's sole aim in broaching the subject of an electoral pact was to damage the SDLP. But surely there could be no damage done to his party's image, unless of course it is actually afraid of placing the broad interests of the people before sectional, party-political interests - and is afraid that this fear will be exposed.

And exposed it has been. What was rejected by the SDLP was far more than the prospect of a few more Westminster seats. It is the whole principle of progressive, people-centred politics.

``We thought it was very important we maximised nationalist political representation (in the Westminster election). We asked the SDLP what ideas they had come to the meeting with... but we didn't get any reply,'' Sinn Féin chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said after his meeting with Attwood on Tuesday.

``We asked about the position outlined in an interview last August by the SDLP leader, which ruled out electoral pacts, and if this was the case, but we didn't get a response.''
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