The SDLP will reject any attempt to form a nationalist election pact, party leader Alasdair McDonnell has said.
Mr McDonnell was commenting after the DUP and Ulster Unionists confirmed they would field only one agreed candidate in four key Westminster election constituencies.
Gavin Robinson and Nigel Dodds of the DUP will stand in East and North Belfast respectively, while the UUP’s Danny Kennedy will run in Newry & Armagh, with Tom Elliott standing in Fermanagh & South Tyrone.
Describing such pacts as “nakedly sectarian”, the South Belfast MP said the SDLP was deeply disappointed at the unionist arrangements.
“We have consistently argued against such pacts and refuse to put party political interests ahead of the need for reconciliation in our divided society,” he said.
“We believe these cynical political moves are designed with the sole purpose of circumventing democracy. Pacts are not about getting the best candidates to represent people – this is about pitting one community against another.
“The SDLP is committed to standing against Tory austerity cuts at Westminster. We have consistently and vocally opposed these cuts in Parliament. This included voting against the Tory Charter for Budget Responsibility which commits the next government to an additional £30bn worth of cuts. Every seat that Sinn Fein wins is one less voice and one less vote against these cuts in Parliament. That plays right into the hands of the Tories.”
Mr McDonnell added: “The SDLP ensured that the NCA (National Crime Agency) will be a valuable weapon against organised crime by securing legislation that will make it accountable to the chief constable for all of its operations in the north, accountable to the Police Ombudsman for the actions of all its agents and accountable to the Policing Board in the same way that the PSNI is. Sinn Fein is big on rhetoric but has no real interest in tackling organised crime.”
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said “progressives can make gains” despite the two main unionists parties coming together in some areas, and called on the SDLP to put “progressive politics before its own narrow party political interests”.
Mr Murphy, the MP for Newry & Armagh, said: “The coming together of the two main unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP, in an election pact on a narrow sectarian and conservative agenda is a challenge to progressive politics. These parties have no vision for the future and are happy with crumbs from the Westminster table.
“This demands a strategic response from those of us who wish to see a society based on equality, inclusion and the protection of the most vulnerable.”
East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long MP said: “The DUP clearly now know that Gavin Robinson cannot win against Alliance in a fair fight, so they have resorted to this anti-democratic move in a desperate attempt to strengthen their position.
“My vision is a more constructive form of unity - building a united community for all people of East Belfast, not a carve-up.”
Mrs Long added: “We have seen unionist pacts before – this did not work in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 2010. It will be the same in East Belfast in 2015.”