SDLP rejects vote pact with Sinn Fein
THE SDLP yesterday rejected overtures from Sinn Fein to form a nationalist electoral pact in marginal constituencies in the North.
The republican party's offer to its bitterest rival comes after a similar deal was struck between the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists in one closely contested seat and amid rumours that there will be a UUP-DUP agreement in a second constituency.
The two unionist parties have agreed to step aside in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in favour of an independent pro-union candidate, while speculation persists that a similar accommodation could also be reached in south Belfast.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams wrote to the SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie suggesting a nationalist alliance.
But Ms Ritchie rejected the proposal outright, pointing out that both her party and Sinn Fein had criticised the unionist pact as a "sectarian headcount".
She wrote back to Mr Adams: "I was disappointed to receive such an approach, given the fact that both of our parties have roundly condemned as sectarian and tribal the recent unionist electoral pact."
In his letter, Mr Adams had called for discussions to ensure that "unionism does not increase its share of Westminster seats through the potential loss of seats by our parties".
While he did not mention constituency names directly, it was clear that Mr Adams had Fermanagh and South Tyrone and south Belfast in mind.
In the border seat, incumbent Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew now faces unionist-unity candidate Rodney Connor.
In south Belfast, sitting SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell could yet be challenged by a single unionist, if the DUP and UUP can strike another deal.