Page last updated at 08:27 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010

Tories play 'orange card' - SDLP

Dr Alasdair McDonnell has written an angry letter to David Cameron
Dr Alasdair McDonnell has written an angry letter to David Cameron

The deputy leader of the SDLP, Alasdair McDonnell, has accused the Conservative Party of sectarianism over its secret talks with the UUP and the DUP.

Representatives of the parties met in London on the 16/17 January.

Dr McDonnell has sought an urgent meeting with David Cameron to express his concerns.

The South Belfast MP said the meeting showed contempt for nationalists and adds further mistrust to the political process.

"It's saying to me that the Conservatives at this stage are not fit for government," said Dr McDonnell.

"This is playing the orange card, it's being sectarian, it's being divisive and I will be putting it to David Cameron that it was naive at best and malevolent at worst."

Pacts

In 2008, the Conservative party officially joined forces with the Ulster Unionist Party, forming a new electoral alliance known as the Ulster Conservative and Unionists - New Force (UCUNF).

No-one is buying the Tory line that this secret, all-unionist meeting was an attempt to overcome political instabilities
Alasdair McDonnell
SDLP

But at the weekend, the UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said the pact only covered European and Westminister elections and gave a strong indication that his party was exploring the possibility of a link-up with the Democratic Unionist Party for Stormont polls.

He confirmed the UUP were involved in a serious engagement about cooperating politically with the DUP and said nothing had been ruled in or out.

DUP MLA Ian Paisley Jnr said "complaining about unionist unity is nothing short of hypocritical".

"When unionists simply talk about things that unite us instead of picking over the things and personalities that divide us, all hell breaks lose in the SDLP," he said.

"The allegations of old orange card are nothing but a smokescreen to cover the anger that certain nationalists will have when they realise their political careers are over because they were based on the false dawn of a split unionist vote."

'Hung parliament'

Mr McDonnell said people resented this "cheap Tory stroke".

"For Mr Cameron to orchestrate playing the orange card last weekend for an hour of self interest did our process serious damage," he said.

"It disrupted the discussions of devolving policing and justice at a very delicate point just to let him gain some narrow political advantage in the event of a hung parliament."

Dr McDonnell has accused Mr Cameron of exploiting the crisis at Stormont.

"No-one is buying the Tory line that this secret, all-unionist meeting was an attempt to overcome political instabilities," he said.

"If this was the genuine motivation then why haven't the Tories met with the nationalist parties which represent half of the population living here?"



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