Battle lines drawn as unionists agree one candidate in Newry/Armagh 

March 23, 2015

A pact formed between the two main unionist parties for the General Election on 7th May will see just one unionist candidate – the UUP’s Danny Kennedy – contest the Newry/Armagh seat.

Last week the DUP and UUP agreed a pact to field just one unionist candidate in four constituencies in a bid to maximize the unionist vote.

Opposing parties reacted angrily to the move with Alliance describing it as “anti-democratic”, while the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell voicing his opposition to “naked sectarian pacts”.

Any suggestion of a similar agreement between Sinn Fein and the SDLP was immediately panned by the latter with Mr McDonnell stating his party could not join with Sinn Féin as they have “significant policy differences which would render any suggestion of a pact senseless”.

As the sole unionist candidate in Newry and Armagh, Danny Kennedy will attempt to usurp Sinn Fein and its representative, Mickey Brady.

Mr Kennedy says he is “looking forward” to the contest he has described as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to replace an absentee Sinn Fein MP with full-time representation at Westminster”.

Rejecting any suggestion of a “sectarian carve up”, Mr Kennedy said: “Firstly, Unionism– like Nationalism – is a political philosophy not a religious one. Anyone who wishes to retain the link with Great Britain is a unionist, regardless of their religious beliefs. There is absolutely nothing sectarian about pro-Union voters wishing to maximise Northern Ireland’s representation in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ at Westminster.

“Secondly, in 30 years of local representation at both Council and Assembly level, I’ve never been a sectarian politician. I’m a proud Unionist and believe strongly in the Union and the benefits it brings, but I have represented people from all sides of the community on bread and butter issues and I will seek to continue to do that if elected as a full-time, fully engaged and participating Member of Parliament. I look forward to engaging with the electorate during the course of this campaign.”

Incumbent MP, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, accused the SDLP of being “silent partners” in the unionist pact and said the party was “acquiescing in this latest pan-unionist initiative”.

“They are the silent partners in this unionist deal, standing only as spoilers against Sinn Féin in winnable nationalist seats in Fermanagh South Tyrone and North Belfast.  The DUP and UUP have rewarded them by not running agreed unionist candidates in SDLP seats in South Belfast, South Down and Foyle,” he said.

“The SDLP’s refusal to enter into an alliance of progressive pro-Agreement parties has all to do with petty self interest and self preservation.  Their tacit acceptance of the unionist pact only benefits parties opposed to equality and which share the Tory agenda of cuts to public services and welfare.”

The SDLP’s candidate, Justin McNulty, declared the only pact he is interested in is his “pact with the people of Newry and Armagh”.

“While others are intent on dragging us back to sectarian headcounts, I am concentrating on unifying our people and getting on with the work that needs to be done to improve the lives of everyone in Newry and Armagh,” he said.

“The constant threat to services in Daisy Hill in Newry and the withdrawal of services in Armagh City are hitting our people hard.  Hard working families, the vulnerable and the elderly are constantly being squeezed and are facing the nightmare impact of Welfare cuts.  Our young people need jobs at home and our education system needs fixed. We need real investment in our roads, rail and communications infrastructure and we need solutions to the problems facing our farmers and rural communities.  This is the only pact people are interested in.

“Hastily arranged marriages of convenience by unlikely bedfellows will only serve to keep us stuck in the past.”