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22 April 2010 Edition

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Bold move demonstrates leadership SDLP sorely lacks

Alex Maskey’s withdrawal of his nomination in South Belfast for the 6 May Westminster election in order to maximise nationalist representation was a real show of leadership by Sinn Féin.
The move was made despite the rejection by the SDLP of a reciprocal pact after a unionist unity candidate was put forward in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. This Sinn Féin initiative was aimed at protecting the two nationalist seats under threat from unionism, those of Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast, not for narrow party political concerns.
Gerry Adams wrote to Margaret Ritchie about an electoral pact after it was clear that nationalists on the doorsteps were demanding such a move, but the SDLP leader would not even meet with him to discuss it.
In the end, Ritchie failed her first leadership test, as Sinn Féin demonstrated leadership in the wider interests of nationalism.
Margaret Ritchie’s subsequent response to Sinn Féin’s decision to withdraw Alex Maskey from the South Belfast contest, however, was to insult the republican electorate and dismiss their vote as irrelevant.   
Ritchie had bizarrely claimed that the Sinn Féin initiative is really about uniting unionists so that Alasdair McDonnell loses his seat.
As Gerry Adams said, if the SDLP want republicans to vote for them in South Belfast they are going to have to start asking them and they’re going to have to stop insulting the intelligence of the republican electorate
Sinn Féin obviously has many differences with the SDLP and with Alasdair McDonnell as well, but they have been given a free run in South Belfast and the insulting and offensive way they have responded to that has caused some anger and confusion.   
There are lots of issues in this election and one of them is leadership and the SDLP is failing in this.

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