Alliance and SDLP announce South Belfast candidates for next Westminster election

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Alliance Party and the SDLP have selected their candidates to contest the South Belfast seat in the next Westminster election.

On Wednesday evening, Claire Hanna was endorsed by SDLP members and Paula Bradshaw was selected by her Alliance Party colleagues mere minutes apart.

Both women have committed to campaigning to unite the community against Brexit, and released similar statements stating that they did not wish to see a "Nationalist versus Unionist election".

South Belfast overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union, recording a 70% Remain vote.

The MP for the area since the 2017 general election is Emma Little-Pengelly of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who took the seat from the SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell, who had previously held the seat since 2005.

Ms Hannah, a former MLA for the area, who resigned from the SDLP whip in February following the party's partnership announcement with Fianna Fail, was unanimously endorsed by South Belfast party members in the area as the candidate in any forthcoming general election.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and deputy leader Nichola Mallon say they have endorsed Ms Hanna as the candidate best able to secure a pro-Remain seat in South Belfast in a "critical election for Northern Ireland's future and the Brexit outcome."

Speaking after the convention, Ms Hanna said any upcoming election will be one of the most important polls taken in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.

"It will not be about orange or green or other, but rather about Northern Ireland's voice in the biggest challenge to our collective peace and prosperity in many years," she said.

"South Belfast is my home, and I am acutely aware of the damage a reckless no-Deal Brexit would cause in our rich and diverse communities who voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the European Union.

"For the last two years, our vibrant, welcoming, pro-Europe community has been represented by an MP who is pursuing a hard Brexit strategy, including supporting the suspension of Parliament at a time when our voices need to be heard most.

"This election comes down to a very simple decision about who the people of South Belfast believe is best placed to be a strong and passionate pro-European voice for them. I am delighted that the SDLP members in South Belfast have endorsed me as the person to lead that broad coalition of Remain voices."

Local Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw says she will contest the constituency as her party seeks to build on their considerable electoral gains in this year's local council elections.

"This cannot be a tired old Nationalist versus Unionist election. This election must be United Community against Brexit," she said.

"I will also be standing on the Alliance Party reputation for hard work and delivery right across the constituency.

"South Belfast is also an overwhelmingly Remain constituency which is why it swung so heavily behind Alliance at the European Elections.

"The choice before the public is simple. If they simply do the same the same thing they did in May and vote Alliance, they will elect a United Community Remain MP representative of the whole constituency."

Alliance Leader Naomi Long MEP said: "I want to tell people in South Belfast that there can be no better person to do that than Paula Bradshaw.

"With Paula's focus on detail and her expertise in all areas relevant to Brexit, and two decades' worth of work in and for the community covering the key regulations and funding which will be affected by our future relationship with the EU."

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