SDLP rule out election pact with Sinn Fein
The SDLP has ruled out a nationalist electoral pact with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland during the upcoming UK general election.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) have agreed to field one unity candidate in each of four general election constituencies in one of the most far-reaching eve-of-poll deals for decades.
East Belfast, North Belfast and the border constituencies of Newry & Armagh and Fermanagh & South Tyrone will be covered.
Party strategists aim to increase the number of unionists at Westminster with the odds of a hung parliament and increased influence for the smaller parties high.
SDLP Stormont MLA Alban Maginness, a candidate for North Belfast, said: "Our position is very clear, we don't enter into sectarian pacts."
Sinn Fein had called on nationalists to come together in response to the unionists' "narrow sectarian and conservative agenda" for the May election.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said: "This is the most comprehensive electoral agreement between our two parties in the last 29 years."
It is widely expected that not only will neither the Conservatives nor Labour command an overall majority to form the next UK Government, so pacts with smaller parties will need to formed, which could give some Northern Ireland MP's big power in the House of Commons.
The DUP, the largest Northern Ireland party in the Commons, has said it will support a government in a hung parliament if there is agreement to scrap the so-called bedroom tax, commitments on defence spending and securing UK borders.
Unionists face a challenge at the polls from Jim Allister's hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, which opposes Sinn Fein's inclusion in power-sharing at Stormont.
UKIP, that party that is emerging as the rising force in UK politics, is planning to run a series of candidates in Northern Ireland which may also erode the mainstream unionist vote.
The UK general election will take place on May 7th.