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Can Sinn Fein Finucane gamble pay off in North Belfast?

By Malachi O'Doherty

The decision of Sinn Fein to field John Finucane as its North Belfast candidate in the general election presents a surprise and a puzzle.

Previously Finucane has been known only as a campaigner for a public inquiry into the murder of his father, Pat Finucane, by loyalists in 1987. This has been one of the most talked about killings of the whole Troubles period, with clear indications of Special Branch collusion.

John Finucane, himself a lawyer, has been articulate and dogged in representing his family's campaign for justice.

But has he the cut of a politician?

We have not seen him in combative exchanges with other candidates or with the media on other issues apart from the questions over his father's murder.

And that is not an issue in which he has presented himself, naturally enough, as anything other than committed, clear and sombre.

Political life requires a broader palette of expressiveness. He may well have it, but we have not seen it.

And then there is the question of why he would want to be an abstaining MP, even to fight for a seat which he might not win. Gerry Kelly has been the routine candidate facing repeated defeats for over 20 years. Sinn Fein feels that it is on the crest of a wave but it will be sorely challenged to rise above about 12,000 votes in North Belfast.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds has raked in nearly 20,000 votes; not so many in the more crowded field of the last Assembly election, though this time he will have a clearer run.

So the gamble is that a new candidate of proven intelligence and eloquence can break new ground.

Finucane has his reputation established and he also carries with him sufficient credibility as a speaker on victims' issues to attract votes that the party would not otherwise garner. But, he is still more likely not to win that seat and he is in danger of facing into years of boredom if he does unless the party has other plans for him. Why else would he want it?

It's not likely to be for the salary and expenses. He comes out of a family of republican royalty.

Three of his uncles, Pat Finucane's brothers, John, Dermot and Seamus were in the IRA. John died in the early 70s, Dermot participated in the 1982 escape from Long Kesh and Seamus was named as one of those who interrogated Mairia Cahill. So perhaps it is not surprising that John is a 'Chuck'.

Perhaps he expects now to be a frontline spokesperson for the party, a weightier campaigner and debater than many of those around him. The betting must surely be on him being moved quickly into a senior position in the party.

He is leadership material.

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