25/05/2010

Embarassed SDLP 'U-Turn' On Unity

There's embarrassment today after a leading north Antrim SDLP politician has been forced to withdraw a call for nationalist unity.

Seen as a dramatic response to ongoing work for unionist unity at polling time, the prominent SDLP figure Declan O'Loan said yesterday that a united nationalist party would be needed to counter calls for any united unionist party.

The MLA - whose wife is the former NI Police Ombudsman - then issued a two-paragraph withdrawal after his call for the formation of a single nationalist party provoked a furious reaction from party colleagues.

In a statement not issued through the party press office, he said he had discussed the idea with the grassroots members in north Antrim and even said that it was very strongly supported.

But he later withdrew the original statement saying it "does not represent established party policy".

Just before the general election, the SDLP rejected an electoral deal with Sinn Fein in two of Northern Ireland's most hotly contested Parliamentary constituencies.

SF President Gerry Adams wrote to Margaret Ritchie proposing a pact in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Belfast South, but Ms Ritchie rejected the offer, lambasting it as sectarian, despite the DUP and Ulster Unionists having agreed on a single pro-Union candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone in an (unsuccessful, but close-run) bid to oust the sitting Republican MP.

The Sinn Fein MPs' policy not sit in the Commons in Westminster also proved a sticking point for the SDLP leader.

Meanwhile, a single unionist party is needed to maintain the union.

That's according to the head of the Orange Order, Grand Master Robert Saulters who has said there was "too much division".

"We will continue to dilute the union if we fight and bicker among ourselves," said Mr Saulters.

He was also speaking in north Antrim at the reopening of Lavin Orange Hall, which has been rebuilt after it was destroyed by an arson attack in July 2006.

See: SDLP Slams SF Electoral Pact Plan

(BMcC/GK)

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