AFTER yesterday’s surprise move by Prime Minister Theresa May to call a general election, political leaders here have been reacting to the prospect of a fourth visit to the polls in just over a year.
Talks to save devolution stalled before Easter with hopes of a deal fading and the prospect of a Westminster election on June 8 only adding to the political vacuum in the north.
DUP leader Arlene Foster called on voters to take the opportunity to “vote for the union”.
“The Prime Minister’s decision to go to Parliament to seek a general election on 8th June provides the people of Northern Ireland with the opportunity to vote for the union,” she said.
“The Democratic Unionist Party has been a strong voice for Northern Ireland at Westminster and we have used the mandate given to us to ensure the interests of Northern Ireland are to the fore.
“The forthcoming election will be an opportunity for unionists to unite around a strong Democratic Unionist Party that will advocate for them in Parliament.”
Sinn Féin leader in the north Michelle O’Neill said the election would be an opportunity for voters to oppose Brexit and reject Tory cuts and austerity.
“Sinn Féin opposed Brexit because it will be disastrous for the people of Ireland, our economy and our public services,” she said.
“The people of the north clearly voted to see their future in the European Union in the referendum last June. We have been blatantly ignored by Theresa May since.
“The Tory Party’s reckless Brexit agenda offers nothing to the people of the north who are being dragged out of the EU against our will.
“The Tory Party and their polices have been rejected by the people in the north in the past, and will be again in this election.
“Sinn Féin is ready to contest this election and it will be an opportunity for voters to oppose Brexit and reject Tory cuts and austerity.
“It is an opportunity to progress designated status for the north within the EU and for a future based on equality, respect, integrity and unity.”
New Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann said: “This election will be about strengthening the hand of the United Kingdom in forthcoming Brexit negotiations. NI needs strong representation in Westminster now more than ever, arguing the best case for Northern Ireland.
“Following the March election I would encourage everyone to ensure they are registered to vote and that if necessary they secure postal and proxy votes for the 8th of June to ensure their voice is heard at the ballet box.”
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said the Prime Minister’s decision reflects the disdain she holds for the north and attempts to restore power sharing government.
He added that the election offers an opportunity for the public to stand behind parties which have steadfastly fought to defend the north during the Brexit fall-out.
Alliance Leader Naomi Long said it would be “a disgrace for parties to stall talks due to the General Election.”