Sinn Fein squirm as hypocrisy over Manchester and London attacks is laid bare for everyone to see
Republican statements on Islamist violence ring hollow given the IRA’s bloody history, writes Nelson McCausland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly election in March was a “wake-up” call to unionists and that was true for both the unionist parties and the unionist people.
There was a need for some radical rethinking, there were lessons to be learned and there was work to be done.
As a result, there has been a general effort to ensure that as many unionists as possible are registered to vote.
The United Kingdom General Election campaign came much sooner than anticipated and meant time was short.
Nevertheless, the focus on registration was a clear indication that both the unionist parties and the unionist people have heard the wake-up call.
After the election, the work of organisation, communication, motivation and registration will have to continue. A good start is important, but it’s how you finish that matters.
Meanwhile, unionists will be looking at the election today as an opportunity to speak up for the Union and for Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.
It’s an opportunity to say that the Assembly election result was a temporary aberration.
Of course, this time it is not a regional election, it is a national United Kingdom election and across the nation it has been overshadowed by the recent terrorist atrocities in England.
Those events have a particular resonance in Northern Ireland and, because of our own experience of terrorism, Ulster folk can genuinely empathise with the cities that have suffered.
The terrorist attacks have caused some difficulty for Jeremy Corbyn and several of his close allies, because of their former associations with militant Irish republicanism, and they have also impacted on the local political debate.
Sinn Fein representatives have been in the awkward position of condemning Islamist terrorism, but still refusing to condemn the murders perpetrated by the Provisional IRA.
This has certainly highlighted the inconsistency and hypocrisy of Sinn Fein — especially with the revelation that the Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has been out canvassing for the Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast and that the overall Sinn Fein campaign across Northern Ireland has been overseen by former republican prisoner Sean Mag Uidhir.
The truth is that Sinn Fein politicians have wriggled and squirmed when challenged about the IRA campaign, which Sinn Fein used to report in glowing terms in the ‘War News’ column of its newspaper, An Phoblacht.
Their problem is that you can’t really distance yourself from IRA terrorism while you keep on glorifying the terrorists who carried out the terrorism.
Moreover, the atrocities in England have reminded everyone of the reality of terrorism, with the injuries, the deaths, the loss and the pain.
Northern Ireland will return 18 MPs to Westminster. At the last election, 11 of the 18 MPs from Northern Ireland were unionists, with the DUP’s eight MPs forming the larger part of the pro-Union bloc.
The DUP will be hoping to retain their eight seats — and, potentially, add one or two more.
Meanwhile, those who are elected for Sinn Fein will refuse to take their seats in the United Kingdom parliament and will have no voice and no vote in the House of Commons. They take the money, but not the seats.
Unionists, however, will have many good reasons to turn out today and vote.
First of all, it will be a vote for the Union and there can be no doubt that republicans will be comparing the votes for pro-Union and pro-united Ireland candidates.
Secondly, during the course of the campaign, the Conservative lead in the opinion polls has reduced considerably.
Of course, such polls are notoriously unreliable. But a smaller Conservative majority could increase the significance and influence of unionist MPs. That could make the seats here in Northern Ireland all the more significant.
Meanwhile, will the pro-Union parties in Scotland, particularly the Scottish Conservatives and Unionists, claw back some seats from the SNP and will the DUP gain enough seats to push ahead of the Liberal Democrats and become the fourth largest party in the House of Commons?
Every election is important, but this one is especially so.