The SDLP have formally re-selected Mark Durkan as their candidate to fight the Westminster election in Foyle. Speaking after being selected as the SDLP’s Foyle Westminster candidate at a party convention in The Playhouse in Derry on Wednesday night, Mr Durkan said it is important that the people of Derry have a strong voice in Parliament who will ‘expose and oppose’ regressive Tory plans for a hard Brexit.
He also vowed to oppose new cuts to welfare benefits, tax credits for working families and pensions if re-elected.
Mr Durkan said he was honoured” to have been chosen by the activists from the SDLP in the Foyle constituency to be the party’s candidate for the 2017 General Election.
He said: “Theresa May has called this election because she wants a strong hand to negotiate a hard Brexit. She also wants a free hand for new cuts to welfare benefits, tax credits for working families and pensions.
“The SDLP were the only party in the North to register for the Remain campaign – and the first to call for EU Special Status. We also spelled out very clearly the importance of having the Good Friday Agreement’s provision for a united Ireland by consent reflected in the future framework for EU-UK relations.
“The EU’s position on Ireland is exactly the position that both I and my party have been arguing for since the referendum campaign – not only in debates at Westminster and as a member of the Brexit Select Committee but in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and other forums.
“Indeed, it is clear that the SDLP has the best answers to Brexit’s problems.”
Mr Durkan warned that, not content on “betraying” 1950s women pensioners, Theresa May now wants to renege on the ‘triple-lock’ pledge to the wider pensioner population in the next parliament – as well as introduce new cuts to tax credits which will hit working families in Derry and elsewhere.
“The Tories have also played on a pledge of ‘no more new welfare cuts in this parliament’. This wasn’t actually true but Theresa May now wants to escape it by having an election to a new parliament,” he said, adding:
“Similarly, many people thought her move against the Human Rights Act would not come until 2020 because she said it should be for the next parliament. This assault on the statutory human rights premise attached to the Good Friday Agreement will be coming soon.
“Alongside this will be the rollback of workplace and consumer rights protected under EU law – under Tory plans for the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ as part of Brexit.
“It is important that a city like Derry, where the Good Friday Agreement matters so much and which would suffer most from a hard Brexit, continues to have a voice in Parliament that exposes and opposes such regressive plans.
“It is also important to have a voice which argues positively for using the precepts and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to answer many of the problems and risks which Brexit creates for Ireland as a whole, for the North and border areas.”
Mr Durkan said that in a number of different debates, he has been tabling “salient amendments” to the Article 50 Bill, while in Select Committee work he advanced the very same thinking that was marked out in the EU 27 text on Ireland while engaging personally with the Taoiseach throughout these efforts.
“Given the delicacy and seriousness in the coming phases, this is not a time for letting Gregory Campbell be the only Derry voice in the Commons on Brexit, the island economy or the fundamental features of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“In my view,” Mr Durkan added, “Theresa May wants to use both Brexit and the new mandate to indulge a more reactionary worldview. We have already seen her cosying up to regimes we should be standing up to for their violations of human rights in their own and neighbouring countries.
“She also seems set to bend and twist the 0.7 per cent gross national income (GNI) aid commitment to developing countries in expedient ways – deviating from commitments on the eradication of poverty and advancing specific rights in challenging environments.
“The many constituents who wrote to me about child refugees and the Dubs amendment will have been appalled by the UK government’s cynical deviation from its terms. We should also be alert to the prospects of more cynical insensitivity on the refugee crisis as evidenced by Theresa May’s answers to my challenges on the nature of their dialogue with Sudan and implications for the Khartoum Process. All this in the context where she could easily sign up behind Donald Trump in ill-conceived military approaches.
“So it is again important that the people of this city who are outward-looking, progressive and considerate global citizens continue to have a voice to say “Not in our Name” when it comes to war, failing refugees, debasing rights, dubious arms sales or reducing aid.”