The Green Party has joined the flood of parties standing aside in what are de facto pacts across key battleground constituencies, in a move which makes it extraordinarily difficult for DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly to retain her seat.
Yesterday Green leader Clare Bailey, who is an MLA for South Belfast, announced that her party would be standing aside in an attempt to assist the SDLP’s Claire Hanna in unseating the DUP MP.
The move means that there will be neither Sinn Fein nor Green candidates in the constituency. Those two parties took 9,384 votes between them in the 2017 election.
Mrs Little Pengelly won the seat with an exceptionally low vote of 13,299 – 2,000 votes ahead of the SDLP – because the other parties took so many votes between them.
Two DUP sources have privately said that they do not believe she can win while facing Ms Hanna endorsed by Sinn Fein and the Greens.
Yesterday Ms Bailey said that her party had decided to “back the pro-Remain candidacy of Claire Hanna”.
In a statement she said: “These are extraordinary times that demand an extraordinary response. Almost 70% of the people of South Belfast voted to remain in the EU and it is vital that a pro-Remain MP is returned.
“This is a first-past-the-post election and Claire Hanna is best placed to take the South Belfast seat from the incumbent pro-Brexit MP based on previous results.”
She added: “Claire Hanna and I have worked well together across a range of issues as South Belfast MLAs and Claire shares my strong pro-Remain credentials.”
The development is a blow to Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw because she and Ms Hanna were attempting to persuade voters that they were best placed to defeat the DUP, thus hoping to win tactical votes from the other’s supporters.
It is not clear whether the Greens’ announcement is the end of the pacts and quasi-pacts which have unfolded over recent days.
The DUP was the first to stand aside, when on Saturday leader Arlene Foster announced that her party would not contest Fermanagh-South Tyrone and instead endorse the UUP’s attempt to take the seat from Sinn Fein.
That was followed on Sunday by the incoming UUP Steve Aiken, who just nine days earlier had categorically pledged to stand in all 18 constituencies, announcing that his party would stand aside in North Belfast in favour of the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, who is facing a stiff challenge from Sinn Fein.
On Sunday night the SDLP shocked many observers when it announced that it was standing aside in key constituencies.
The party said that it would not run in North Belfast, helping Sinn Fein’s attempt to topple Mr Dodds, as well as in East Belfast and North Down.
That was reciprocated on Monday with a statement from Sinn Fein that it would stand aside in South Belfast as well as in East Belfast and North Down.
However, some of the strains and potential contradictions in the de facto alliances yesterday began to emerge.
The DUP put pressure on the SDLP over the news that Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has been campaigning for Sinn Fein’s John Finucane in North Belfast.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Sean Kelly has been canvassing for Sinn Fein in North Belfast but will he now be canvassing on behalf of the SDLP too?
“I accept everyone can have a past and can change but Sean Kelly has shown no remorse for murdering nine innocent people, including two children. Do the SDLP endorse his involvement in support of their pact?”
However, the SDLP insisted that it had not entered a pact with Sinn Fein, despite standing aside in favour of a Sinn Fein candidate.
A spokesman said: “This election is about Remain v Leave but the DUP want it to be a sectarian Green v Orange fight which the SDLP will play no part in. The truth is that it was the DUP’s William McCrea who shared a platform with loyalist killer Billy Wright, it was Arlene Foster who was happy to be pictured with Dee Stitt and just last week the DUP leadership was briefing loyalist paramilitaries on Brexit.
“Jeffrey Donaldson should clarify if the DUP plans to meet loyalist paramilitaries or paramilitary groups in the coming weeks to shore up electoral support and support for their hard Brexit position. The SDLP will categorically not be seeking the support of any such groups or people.”