It’s sad and unfortunate but all the talk of  pacts in the past few weeks was really only a fraudulent attempt by the various parties to appear reasonable to voters. For a day or two it actually sounded genuine and there was a naïve hope that Politicians would sacrifice power in the interests of the people. Even when it became clear that the pacts had no chance, the parties still insisted they were exhausting all avenues in  an attempt to strengthen the remain cause. This of course has since been revealed as complete nonsense.

The sdlp decision to stand Martin McAuley in North Belfast and Mary Garrity in Fermanagh/South Tyrone shows that they would rather see pro brexit, pro Tory austerity, homophobic bigots elected (in fact, anyone but Sinn Fein). It shows a total disregard for the people who live in both constituencies. A disregard for the overall remain( special status) campaign, and a disregard for those who will suffer most under Tory austerity.  The LGBT+ community yet again must feel abandoned, women seeking at least some progress on reproductive rights must feel abandoned ( though a pact would not have guaranteed women the full reproductive rights they’re entitled too), and all of this potential progress denied for what. I have no idea who either sdlp candidate is and will not criticise them personally. They could indeed be excellent candidates but the point is, they have absolutely no chance of winning either seat. The only logical explanation is to stop Sinn Fein.

Ironically Alban Maginness said on BBC talkback this week that he didn’t know the Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane, and pointed out that the Human Rights Solicitor had no experience. Seriously Alban, it’s a good job the interview was on radio as you must have struggled to keep a straight face. John Finucane and the Finucane name is very well known in North Belfast and indeed right across Ireland. It’s also well known in Westminster, Europe and is globally recognised by Human Rights campaigners. He has represented people from all backgrounds on a multitude of Human Rights issues and has a better understanding of the struggle faced by victims and they’re families than most.

During the pact charade it was rumoured that a neutral unity candidate, that all parties could get behind was a possibility. I suspect the strongest unity candidate suggested was John Finucane and while I accept I’m no expert on some of the local difficulties in North Belfast, I would challenge the other anti brexit parties to come up with a better candidate. Apart from the attributes already mentioned, John is part of the North Belfast community, he is involved with the local schools, sports and aware of the issues on the ground. He is involved locally, nationally and legally in the fight for marriage equality, gender equality, cultural equality and victims equality. He comes from a mixed family with both Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist relatives, and we need people with that awareness of the different perspectives.

While the sdlp and others  have every right to ask for your vote in these areas, it is up to the voters to decide wether to waste it on someone who has no chance, or someone who stands against progress,or simply vote for the candidate who best reflects your views, and has a very credible chance of winning.

The story in Fermanagh/South Tyrone is pretty much the same except that Sinn Fein has already proved it can win the seat, even with the sdlp standing a candidate. Again I don’t know Mary Garrity, but I’ve no doubt she is a good person and good candidate, but reality tells us that every vote for her increases the risk of Tom Elliot being returned to Westminster. The same Tom Elliot who campaigned to remain (quietly) and has changed to Brexit because he’s a democrat. A brexit candidate representing Fermanagh/South Tyrone of all places is worse than insane.

South Belfast is another constituency where an anti brexit candidate could almost certainly have won and it needn’t have been orange and green. It would break my heart but the best placed pact candidate would probably have been Alasdair McDonald and Sinn Fein could and maybe should have stood aside regardless of the sdlp actions in other constituencies. There was also an opportunity for a unity candidate and if managed properly by the other parties, Claire Bailey or Paula Bradshaw could have taken the seat. South Belfast voters could well take matters in to they’re own hands anyway. We can only hope.

Naomi Long could have made life a lot easier for herself by accepting support from the sdlp, Sinn Fein and the Greens in East Belfast , but again voters including many unionist remain supporters may take matters in to they’re own hands and vote against fear.

As for abstentionist candidates being unrepresentative during these crucial Brexit negotiations, further austerity measures etc, I would point out that to date the MPs in the Westminster chamber have had zero influence. Any special status for Ireland, north or south in the aftermath of brexit, will be negotiated and delivered by Europe and Dublin. There are actual opportunities to avoid a hard border at least in terms of the movement of people. The border would be at the northern airports but we need more than what’s been hinted at so far. To get more we need politicians who will fight for more. Michelle Gildernew is well versed on the agriculture brief and well versed on the difficulties a newly formed border would create.

Remaining on the abstentionist point it’s important to note that any MP would admit the majority of their work is done outside the chamber. In fact the bulk of the work is done in the constituency either representing constituents on localised issues, meeting with other elected bodies (EU, Dublin, Stormont, Councils, Health Trusts), Meeting with both local and international investors and meeting with a multitude of interest groups who are struggling under extreme Tory cuts.

The abstentionist argument against Sinn Fein falls flat when voters are aware that there is a full Sinn Fein team working round the clock in Westminster. I have personal experience of this as I accompanied a number of the Loughinisland families to Westminster, to meet with representatives of all the main parties. Sinn Fein facilitated the meetings and further meetings in Dublin, Belfast, Brussels and Washington. It was the abstentionist Sinn Fein who opened the doors for these meetings and significant progress has been made as a result. It is crucial that this work continues, particularly with the ECHR. Loughinisland is in South Down which has a sitting sdlp MP, yet for all their talk of taking their seats, not once did they show any practical support for the families.

So for all the talk of a unionist pact with parties who don’t even agree on brexit, and all the talk of a progressive pact with parties who agree on many of the outstanding issues, including brexit, it is down to us the voters to make the final decision. To the bigots – do your worst. To those of us who like to think of ourselves as progressive, wether we’re unionist, nationalist or other, forget the disagreements and vote for the progressive party who has a chance of winning in your area.