20 February 1997 Edition
Chance of 8 MPs
The upcoming Westminster election offers an opportunity for nationalists to transform the political landscape in the Six Counties, said Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin. Up to eight nationalist MPs could be elected if there were agreed nationalist candidates.
``This 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,'' McLaughlin said.
A nationalist voting pact would be very popular among ordinary nationalists. There is evidence of a strong body of nationalist opinion in support of an electoral pact between the SDLP and Sinn Féin. This would help produce a group of MPs committed to achieving a lasting peace in Ireland and weaken the power of Unionists who have obstructed the path to peace at every turn.
Call for agreement with SDLP
Sinn Féin Party Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said on Wednesday 19 February that his party was willing to explore openly an electoral accommodation with the SDLP.
He said such an agreement has the potential to secure eight Westminster constituencies for nationalists. This would significantly reduce the unionists' political strength.
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 at present held by the SDLP but are vulnerable to a single unionist candidate in the context of a divided nationalist vote; Mid-Ulster where Sinn Féin are the front-runners with Martin McGuinness but where a split nationalist vote could mean Willie McCrea's re-election; West Tyrone where Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty could take the seat but unionist unity could deprive nationalists again; North Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone where nationalist unity is essential to unseat unionists.
McLaughlin said that the article by John Hume in the Sunday Independent on 5 January in which he effectively ruled out an arrangement with Sinn Féin had ``caused considerable disappointment within the nationalist community''. McLaughlin said: ``Our party was pro-active in seeking such an accommodation. Sinn Féin did not reject an electoral pact or agreement with the SDLP. It was the SDLP which closed down this option. In our opinion non-unionist voters want to maximise the strategic use of their voting power.''
Putting the need for agreement in the context of efforts to rebuild the peace process, McLaughlin said: ``The quest for a lasting peace demands united parties working together on points of agreement, independent in their own seperate identity and analysis but prepared to set aside party political differences for 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. For all these reasons Sinn Féin is still prepared to explore openly and positively an electoral accommodation with the SDLP. The search for peace would undoubtedly be enhanced by a strengthened electoral mandate for both the SDLP and Sinn Féin and for our leaders who were and remain, the prime movers in the search for a lasting peace settlement.''