A snap Westminster election hot on the heels of a snap Assembly election has made 2017 a year to remember for Northern Ireland’s politicos – and it’s only the Spring.
Recent headlines and political speculation have concerned pacts. A potential “pro-remain” or “anti-Brexit” pact and of course a Unionist pact.
I did meet with other pro-remain party leaders in the days following Theresa May’s General Election announcement. I also met with my party Executive and listened to the many Green Party members who offered their views on any potential pact.
I did much talking, but also listened to the positions of other party leaders and indeed the views of grassroots Green Party members.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that entering into a pact was not the right thing to do.
I maintain that having the exploratory discussions around the pro-remain pact was the correct and reasonable approach.
What’s wrong with having a discussion? Isn’t politics premised on discussion and dialogue?
Let’s face it, as MLAs we’re not exactly exercised by Assembly business or exhaustive talks aimed at restoring an Executive at present.
I entered into discussions with SDLP and Sinn Féin with key concerns, but unfortunately they were not allayed.
The SDLP were quick off the mark to announce Alasdair McDonnell as their South Belfast candidate. I was honest with Colum Eastwood and explained that I did not think that Dr McDonnell was an appropriate unity candidate.
I also expressed reservations around promoting a candidate with stern anti choice views amongst the Green Party membership. Indeed, I put forward the case at the time and still believe that Clare Bailey would have made an excellent unity candidate.
In discussions with Sinn Féin, they failed to provide any indication that they would take their Westminster seats. Again, I couldn’t support a pact with Sinn Féin when opportunities to scrutinise Brexit across the lifetime of the next parliament are to be thrown away.
I chatted with the UUP leader Robin Swann about possible involvement in a pro-remain pact. I believe that his party has abandoned their pro-remain principles.
Most surprisingly, Alliance refused to engage with the Green Party on the issue of a pro-remain pact. And worse still, they described it as a “nationalist pact”. In doing so they sectarianised the concept of co-ordinated opposition to Brexit. That was difficult to take and contrary to the anti-sectarian track record of the Green Party.
In the post-election period I look forward to working with all local parties in delivering the best deal possible for Northern Ireland from Brexit. I would also hope that they would support our call for a referendum on the final Brexit deal.
But for now, there is a Westminster election to contest. We will run strong and able candidates across Northern Ireland.
The Green Party election campaign will concentrate on issues such as Brexit and the future of our public services. We will put people first.
Surely, when Alliance declined to get involved, there was still an indication that SF and SDLP could be involved. That looks very like a Nationalist pact to me. Yes, the Greens are most definitely not in the same boat but it would have been seen by unionists and by the press, etc as a nationalist pact. My feeling is that Naomi Long was right to stay out of it, even though it was very unlikely to happen in any event.
A Green-SDLP pact would have been no more a nationalist pact than a Green-Conservative pact would have been a bedroom tax pact. The issue on which Agnew was seeking a unity candidate was the EU. How many times does he have to say it???
‘The SDLP were quick off the mark to announce Alasdair McDonnell as their South Belfast candidate. I was honest with Colum Eastwood and explained that I did not think that Dr McDonnell was an appropriate unity candidate.’
I have to admit, whilst I like Clare Bailey, Steven’s assertion that she should be the unity candidate in place of an existing MP is a sign that the Green’s were putting on something of a show. The main focus here is an anti-Brexit alliance, not a pro-choice ticket. I sincerely get the impression this is more to do with the electorate in North Down perhaps not being too receptive to the Greens working in a ‘green tinged’ alliance, hence why the actual APNI avoided discussions (see Mike Nesbitt saying he would vote SDLP as a 2nd preference and how this may effect certain electorates).