Sinn Féin ‘wants to return as many progressive MPs as possible from NI’

Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein speaks with PA Media at Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast
-Credit: (Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Sinn Féin wants to maximise the number of “progressive” MPs returned from Northern Ireland in this year’s General Election, vice president Michelle O’Neill has said.

The party is running 14 candidates, standing aside in East Belfast, North Down and Strangford where Alliance is challenging unionists, as well as South Belfast where the SDLP is hoping to return to the green benches.

Ms O’Neill said it had not been an easy decision to stand aside in the four constituencies but said the party wants to see a “rejection” of those who had “propped up” the last Conservative government.

Read more: Full list of candidates running in the General Election in Northern Ireland

It comes after the DUP maintained a close relationship with the Conservatives, including taking part in a confidence and supply deal in 2017 following the return of a hung parliament.

“We want this election to return the maximum number of progressive candidates,” Ms O’Neill told the PA news agency.

“The maximum number of MPs that want to make politics work here at home, the maximum number of MPs that reject Tory austerity and the cuts that have decimated our public services for the past 14 years, and also to reject those people that actually propped up the Tories throughout that tenure, so that we set aside in those constituencies to actually make space for that progressive candidate to come through.”

Sinn Féin won seven seats at the last general election in 2019.

This year, Ms O’Neill said the party is hoping to maintain the seven and potentially build its vote.

The party is targeting gains including attempting to win Foyle over SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein speaks with PA Media at Parliament Buildings at Stormont
Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein speaks with PA Media at Parliament Buildings at Stormont -Credit:Liam McBurney/PA Wire

This General Election comes after a disappointing showing for Sinn Féin in the Republic of Ireland where it was widely seen as the government in waiting, but suffered a major setback when its support in the European and local government elections dropped well below what was projected.

Ms O’Neill said she does not expect any repeat of that disappointment north of the border.

She said: “Obviously, we didn’t realise our full ambition in the south but we did make some gains.

“We’ve work to do there, and we’ll do that, and we’ll regroup and be back in time to fight the next contest in the south but I don’t think it’s having any sort of link into here.

“People know this is a Westminster election, and they know that July 4 is about politics here in the north, for making politics work in the north, for that strong leadership and for positive change.”

Ms O’Neill also rejected criticism over Sinn Féin MPs continuing their long-held policy of not taking their seats at Westminster, insisting the party makes a difference.

“Sinn Fein MPs work very hard for the constituencies, and people know that whenever they vote for a Sinn Fein MP, that they’re getting that hard-working local MP,” she said.

“They also know that they’re getting the all-island team that Sinn Fein represents, in the local Executive here, with having the First Minister and other ministers also in the Dail in Dublin, in London and in the United States and now in Europe, with their two MEPs, no other party in the North has two MEPs.

“So that strong representation where it counts actually is making the difference. The finest examples I can point to in that regard are Brexit and the international support that we got for protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit position was borne out.

“Also, on a more local basis, our finance minister Caoimhe Archibald knocking on the door of the Treasury has been able to make strong advances in terms of the funding arrangement that we have for the North.

“That shows that Sinn Féin can make a difference in terms of going directly to the door of the Treasury or the prime minister of the day in the aftermath of this election.

“Westminster has shown that they never have and never will act in our interests.

“So I think that people understand that their fortunes are best served by politics working here at home and I think that’s the message that certainly I engage with people on the doors, day and daily.”

In terms of the next government in London, Ms O’Neill said Sinn Féin would hope to build a good relationship with Labour if it wins the election.

“I know from the Labour manifesto that they talk about public services and the need to improve public services here so that’s something that clearly (we) would want to work with Labour on,” she said.

“Also, we need to advance the conversation around how we’re funded, how our public services are funded, and we’ve made some progress there, but I think we’ve more to do so that would be the day one conversation for Labour.

“We would expect that we would want to build a better relationship with Labour, for the good of all the people that live here.”

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