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In search of a Sinn Fein voter on the Shankill

Following Paul Maskey’s claim he received votes from all areas of West Belfast, Connla Young scoured the heartland of loyalism to see if he could find a republican supporter

Find a ‘Shinner’ on the Shankill — the Friday afternoon task was simple. Instinctively I knew I would have more luck trying to find Lord Lucan sipping cocktails with Robert Maxwell somewhere in the south of France.

Nevertheless I’d give it a go, but as I neared the road I plotted my getaway route... just in case.

Yesterday Sinn Fein’s triumphant Paul Maskey revealed he had secured votes in every box counted during this week’s Westminster by-election, including the loyalist Shankill area.

In the end the chances of finding someone who had actually cast a vote were just slightly higher than the prospect of trapping that elusive Lesser Spotted Shankill Shinner.

With pen in hand I tackled a few men as they went about their business on the lower end of the road.

In response to the killer question, one man offered something between a grunt and a deep growl dredged from the pit of his stomach.

A change of tact was needed, so the first woman with a child got a tap on the shoulder. “Election? What election?” she asked. “I don’t really follow that stuff, I just go with the flow,” she muttered as she made her way along the road.

After a couple more brush-offs I eventually hit on someone who was willing to stop for more than a second. The woman’s guarded response to my early questions didn't surprise me, but as the conversation wore on I got a sneaking sense she might be hiding a dark secret.

As I quizzed her with series of probing questions a fleeting thought crossed my mind: ‘Have I actually cornered a Shankill Shinner?’ Then out of nowhere she blurted out: “I’ve gone to them in the past.” “But did you vote for them,” I fired back. She hesitated and with a smile said “no”.

I didn’t want to believe the denial and wondered if, on this occasion, no meant yes.

But she stuck to her guns and revealed she has crossed the peace line to visit the Sinn Fein advice centre on the Falls Road — a hefty admission in a loyalist heartland.

“Politicians here don’t do anything for you,” she complained. “To be honest, they (Sinn Fein) are the ones that get things done. I had a personal experience and I went over to the other side to complain. Around here they say the other side know how to get everything and I would say that’s true. I know another woman from here, a single mother who couldn’t get a house, and she went to Sinn Fein and they got it sorted out.

“There are a lot of people who probably won’t admit it, but some people do go to them for help.”

Although I came close, there ended my unsuccessful search for that mysterious breed — the Shankill Shinner. Maybe they’re all in the south of France...

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