With six weeks to go before the snap general election which was called by British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, the vote in Northern Ireland is shaping up like no other in recent history.
Being dubbed the Brexit election, it looks to all intents and purposes that the poll will be a rerun of last year’s divisive EU referendum, and while it’s no surprise that unionist parties are already meeting to discuss the formation of electoral pacts, the SDLP have also met with both Sinn Féin and the Greens in a bid to form a pact to consolidate the EU ‘Remain’ vote.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said that the discussions are about advancing an “anti-Brexit cause” in the Westminster election.
“We will not be involved in any sectarian pact where it’s unionist vs nationalist, where it’s ‘let’s keep a unionist out or get a nationalist out’,” he said.
“We are open to discussions around how we can protect the interests of Northern Ireland and the majority who voted to remain.
“This is a Brexit election. We’re open to discussions about how we advance the anti-hard Brexit cause.”
Sinn Féin’s northern leader, Michelle O’Neill, whose party are eager to win back the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat which they dramatically lost to Tom Elliott, who ran as a sole unionist candidate two years ago, said she was open to the idea.
“This election is not about orange and green, it is about Brexit and opposition to the Tory party’s policies,” she said.
“We will stand up for the people. We will stand up for the needs of the economy and we make the case for designated special status in Europe.”
When the election was surprisingly called, SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the SDLP weren’t interested in electoral pacts, but as the week went on the party moved away from this position.
In last month’s Assembly election, Sinn Féin outpolled the SDLP in South Down, Foyle and South Belfast - the three constituencies in which the SDLP has elected MPs.
Meanwhile, as the DUP and UUP intensify talks over electoral pacts, new UUP leader Robin Swann has described DUP leader Arlene Foster’s comments that the UUP should stand aside in South Belfast as both “arrogant and unhelpful.”
And while unionism is attempting to unite under one banner, a warning over a split in the main unionist party has also been aired.
DUP South Down MLA, Jim Wells, has warned the party leadership that the DUP faces a split if it agrees to same-sex marriage, a key demand from Sinn Féin during the current Stormont negotiations to form a new power-sharing executive.
This article originally featured in the Irish Echo. You can read more from them here.