Hazzard rules himself out of Sinn Fein leadership.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

SOUTH Down MP Chris Hazzard has ruled himself out of the running for the position of Sinn Fein president.

At last weekend's Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, long-standing president Gerry Adams announced his intention to retire from the position he has held from 1983.

Also at the event on Saturday (18 November) Mr Hazzard was elected onto the party's ruling body, the Ard Comhairle.

Speaking to The Outlook yesterday (Monday) he said he would not be putting his name into the hat for the party's leading role.

"I have absolutely no intention of putting myself forward for the position of president," he said.

"My hands are full enough with joining the Ard Comhairle, as well as my role as MP for South Down. It's definitely not on the agenda." Describing the atmosphere at the Ard Fheis as "great" he said there were also "mixed feelings".

"Given the year we have had, with the passing of Martin (McGuinness) and the expected announcement from Gerry, there was a mixture of feelings," he said.

"At the same time there was a very buoyant mood because the party is growing all the time. We are in a good space politically and you could feel that it was a historic occasion." Mr Hazzard said he was "honoured" to be selected to the party's ruling body despite it "being extra work".

"When I saw my name was selected I was honoured, it is a great privilege.

"It is extra work but it's good to put South Down on the map within the party." Mr Hazzard's election to the Ard Comhairle follows the news last week that he was the highest spender in Northern Ireland in this year's Westminster elections.

Describing the 15,238 spent during his election campaign as "worthwhile" he said he had a lot of support throughout the campaign.

"I would say it was worthwhile in light of the fact that we won the seat," he said.

"We had a huge amount of people who came on board in many ways, including donations." However, he said he did not agree with claims the money was "a waste" when Sinn Fein do not take up their seats in Westminster.

"We do everything else and more," he said.

"I am travelling to London tonight with Gerry to go to Downing Street to meet with the Prime Minister.

"We do not take our seats in the chamber, but we are in Westminster every week. I have met with James Brokenshire and all the leaders of the other parties in London.

These meetings in London are where I feel the real work is being done.

"There are legal parameters on what we can and cannot spend and we always come within those.

"The cost is always a condition, but you draw up a plan for your campaign and finance is always part of that. But we are always within the legal boundaries."

Mr Hazzard said he feels the importance of having a Sinn Fein MP representing South Down was paramount as Brexit negotiations continue.

"Last year when I was a Minister, I was involved in some of the Brexit talks in London. We were not being listened to at all," he said.

"Unfortunately the reality is the British government do not have the mechanisms for listening anyway. Even the Scottish and Welsh assemblies say that and they are up and functioning.

"There is no role for locally devolved assemblies to have a voice in these matters.

I have spoken with my DUP colleagues in London and we all expressed real frustrations last year that we were not being listened to and we do not think that has changed.

"When I am speaking to Theresa May this week, I will raise the fact that we need to have Stormont restored, but we need to have it restored on the right basis.

"People want local politics up and running and I am being told this every day, but they want it run with integrity."


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