Martin McAuley rubbishes ‘paper candidate’ claim

THE SDLP has rejected suggestions that it is fielding a ‘paper candidate’ in North Belfast.

In a surprise move on Wednesday, the party selected its press officer Martin McAuley to contest the seat.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon was widely expected to be the SDLP candidate, in a constituency where Sinn Féin’s John Finucane is attempting to unseat the DUP’s Nigel Dodds. However, Ms Mallon is due to give birth imminently.

When asked last night if he regarded himself as a ‘paper candidate’, Mr McAuley said: “Absolutely not.”

“The SDLP doesn’t do paper candidates and I don’t do paper campaigns,” the 26-year-old said.

“I am in this race to unseat a pro-Brexit MP who has betrayed the will of his constituents.”

The SDLP has also rubbished suggestions that its Fermanagh-South Tyrone candidate Mary Garrity, who will run against Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew and outgoing UUP MP Tom Elliott, has a similarly low profile.

“Mary Garrity is a fierce candidate in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, chair of the council and a real political fighter,” a spokesman said.

Two former SDLP colleagues clashed during a discussion about the party’s selection of candidates on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback yesterday.

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney was rebuked by former North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness after he labelled Ms Garrity a “non-person”.

Meanwhile, as nominations for the June 8 Westminster election closed yesterday at 4pm, the Ulster Unionists’ Alan Chambers withdrew his candidacy in North Down, where former UUP member Lady Sylvia Hermon is the incumbent.

UUP leader Robin Swann said she has “enjoyed overwhelming support” as MP.

In all, 109 candidates will contest the general election across 18 constituencies.

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