The Green Party leader has told the News Letter his party members will meet on Saturday to discuss whether to join any electoral deal.
Whilst Steven Agnew said the notion of pact – which could involve both Sinn Fein and the SDLP – is under consideration, he would not be drawn on whether or not he has a personal preference.
This stance contrasts markedly with fellow non-aligned party Alliance, which had expressly rejected the idea of a pact almost as soon as the idea was mooted on Wednesday.
“We’re pro-Remain, but we’re also in favour of giving the electorate a choice,” said Mr Agnew, referring to the fact that the SDLP is billing any potential pact as solely a deal among pro-EU parties.
The SDLP – which raised the idea of the pact – has stressed that it will talk to “anyone”, and that it does not have just fellow nationalists in mind (although Sinn Fein would be both the biggest potential partner and arguably the most likely one too).
The Green Party met the SDLP on Thursday to discuss the issue, and it will now come before an already-scheduled meeting of the Green Party executive on Saturday.
Non-violence is one of the four core principles of the Green Party, and when asked about Sinn Fein’s associations with (and ongoing praise for) the violence of the Troubles, Mr Agnew said that “whether it be DUP sharing power with Sinn Fein or us discussing an electoral pact with Sinn Fein, they’re part of the political landscape and every party within the Assembly will deal with them one way or another”.
He also said party members will have weigh up Sinn Fein’s abstentionist stance too, adding if an anti-Brexit pact “is about votes in the House of Commons, you obviously need to be there to take those votes”.
WHAT DOES SDLP STAND TO GAIN?
The Green Party could be important because the SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell had only a 2.3% lead over the DUP in his South Belfast seat in the 2015 General Election.
If the Green Party dropped out of the race and some of their share of the vote (amounting to 5.7%) transferred to the SDLP, it could give them the edge they need to hold it.
However, if Sinn Fein (with 13.9% of the vote) dropped out of the race, it would be a far bigger boost to the SDLP.
Nicholas Whyte, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and an expert on election results, said that the only thing he can forsee the SDLP getting out of a pact with Sinn Fein is the retention of this sole seat.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein could win Fermanagh and South Tyrone, North Belfast, and perhaps even Upper Bann if the SDLP stood aside in those constituencies under a pact.
“If I was the SDLP, I wouldn’t take it,” he said.
“What does the SDLP get out of it? If you have a pact, the smaller party has to be gaining something.
“All we’ve identified currently is the SDLP get to keep what they have – which is not the same as gaining.”