SDLP to contest all 18 of NI's general election seats

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said his party will be running in all 18 constituencies in the general election.

Sinn Féin and the DUP have both indicated they will be standing aside in some areas.

Speaking on the BBC News NI programme The View, Mr Eastwood denied that the party would be running some "paper candidates".

However he admitted a number of constituencies would be prioritised.

In the last general election in 2019, the SDLP won two seats, in Foyle and Belfast South.

Mr Eastwood claimed the party could win at least one more on 4 July.

What did Colum Eastwood say about Sinn Féin?

In a thinly-veiled attack on Sinn Féin's policy of not taking their seats in the House of Commons, he said it was important for "Northern Ireland's voice to be heard".

"It's better to be there holding it (the government) to account, standing up, having our voice heard," he said.

"Sitting outside, or turning up now and again and standing outside doing interviews, makes no impact whatsoever."

Sinn Féin insist their voice can still be heard by the London government without sitting at Westminster.

However, Mr Eastwood claimed he had popular support for taking his seat in the last Parliament.

He also said he had built up "seriously strong relationships" with the Labour Party, which he hopes will form the next government.

SDLP ends Stephen Nolan boycott

Mr Eastwood was also asked about his recent decision to agree to interviews on the Stephen Nolan radio show.

The party had been boycotting the programme - with no SDLP representative appearing on its airwaves for more than a year - after a dispute over the treatment of SDLP assembly member Matthew O'Toole during a broadcast.

Mr Eastwood insisted it was a party decision rather than a personal one.

"We never said we were in a never-ending boycott" he said.

He added that the party had "made our point, they know what we think and I hope that the Nolan Show will respond in the way that we'd like them to".

Nationalist rivalries

Mr Eastwood won the Foyle seat in 2019 by a landslide of more than 17,000 votes.

The result ousted Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion, who had narrowly taken the seat in 2017 at the expense of the SDLP's former leader Mark Durkan.

At the end of 2020, Sinn Féin initiated an internal review of its operations in Derry following poor election performances - the shake up resulted in the withdrawal of its high-profile former MEP and junior Stormont minister Martina Anderson and her party colleague Karen Mullan from elected politics.

Since becoming the largest party in recent Stormont and council elections, Sinn Féin now has hopes of challenging for the Foyle seat once more.

It outpolled the SDLP in Foyle in the assembly election in 2022, although constituency boundaries have since changed slightly.

The other Foyle candidates confirmed by their respective parties so far are:

  • Sandra Duffy - Sinn Féin

  • Gary Middleton - Democratic Unionist Party

  • Rachael Ferguson - Alliance Party

  • Janice Montgomery - Ulster Unionist Party

  • Shaun Harkin - People Before Profit

When is the UK general election?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the next general election will take place on 4 July.

Mr Sunak's announcement ended months of speculation about when the UK would go to the polls.

Eighteen seats are up for grabs in Northern Ireland.

The deadline for candidates to submit nomination forms in Northern Ireland is 16:00 BST on Friday 7 June.

The View can be watched on the BBC iPlayer. Other party leaders will be interviewed in the run-up to polling day.

Graphic pointing to more election coverage
[BBC]