Just when you think there aren’t any more rabbits in that Sinn Fein hat, Martin McGuinness pulled another one out of it today and just before the SDLP conference. Whilst the SDLP were hoping for a focus on welfare reform and budget cuts, it will now be overshadowed somewhat by an offer from McGuinness for a “Pro-Agreement pact” at Westminster.
Here are his remarks;
For the past two years the political process has been challenged by those who are attempting to turn the clock back.
There is a need to send out a clear message of support for progressive politics, the Good Friday Agreement and genuine power sharing and partnership government.
With an imaginative approach we could maximise representation of progressive Pro Agreement parties at the next Westminster and Assembly elections and in the process challenge the negative agenda of the anti-agreement unionist axis.
I am calling therefore on the SDLP to withdraw their candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Upper Bann and North Belfast with the objective of delivering electable pro-Agreement candidates. If the SDLP choose to stand in these constituencies they risk handing these seats to anti-agreement unionists.
This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism and provide allies and support for a future Tory assault on public services.
In response Sinn Féin is prepared to withdraw candidates in other constituencies to reciprocate this move from the SDLP. This would clearly assist in the election of progressive pro-agreement candidates.
It is my understanding that McDonnell is set to reject this pact arguing that the SDLP will fight all 18 seats in May. This will be an incredibly interesting few days for the party as the most vulnerable MP in the SDLP party, he must be thinking whether this may not be an offer that is too good to refuse.
Another point of interest, is that not once did McGuinness reference, Nationalism in his statement, rather he is stressing the need for pro-agreement candidates to come together. I wonder does this include Naomi Long though?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs