Rebel Labour Party members standing in the Assembly election in defiance of the party hierarchy have dismissed threats from London that they could face expulsion.
The Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee (NILRC) – which is standing eight candidates – yesterday launched its manifesto in North Belfast.
Despite a letter from Labour threatening the candidates with expulsion, leader Kathryn Johnston said: “We’re completely confident that we’ve kept within the Labour Party Northern Ireland rules which do no stop us standing...those rules were given to us by the Labour Party UK and we have worked within those rules.
“It’s absolute nonsense and there will be no expulsions.”
Former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, who was at the launch, told the News Letter that it would be “inconceivable” for the Labour Party to expel members for contesting elections in the Province.
The party claims to have grown from 300 members a year ago to 1,800 today – largely due to the huge influx of members around the time of Jeremy Corbyn’s ultimately successful campaign to be Labour leader.
Belfast-born Labour peer Baroness May Blood endorsed the new initiative in a video message. In it, she said that after last year’s ‘Fresh Start’ deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein there was now a need for “fresh faces in Stormont”.
A central part of the party’s message to voters is that ti wants to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
The manifesto states: “All our candidates are members of the Labour Party and we would like to be contesting this election as Labour Party candidates.”
It adds: “We are not and do not pretend to be official candidates of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland.
“We are not endorsed by that party or supported by it financially although the party did at its AGM unanimously acknowledge – and without any suggestion of censure – that some of its members would contest the election.”
The party said that the electorate “should have no doubt that if they vote for candidates of the NILRC they are voting for candidates who will pursue Labour policies and represent Labour values”.
It said that voters could send “an important message to decision makers in London...that the people of Northern Ireland demand the right to be able to choose to vote for or vote against all the mainstream parties in Great Britain”.
The manifesto acknowledged that frustration with politics in Northern Ireland meant that many people – and in particular, young people – are becoming “anti-politics” and refusing to vote.
But it warned that although such a stance was understandable, it meant that “all the decisions that affect everyday life in Northern Ireland are more rather than less likely to be made by the sort of people whose views you disagree with”.
Party will not be pro-Union
Unlike the British Labour Party, which campaigned vigorously in favour of the Union during the Scottish referendum, the new Northern Ireland party will not take any stance on the constitutional status of the Province.
Leader Kathryn Johnston told the News Letter: “We do not take any stance at all on the constitutional issue.
“The Good Friday Agrement removed that forever from everyday politics...members of the Labour Party would no doubt vote for a united Ireland – like myself – or for maintaining the Union with the rest of the UK. it’s up to them.”