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General Election 2015: The nastiest campaign yet

Accusations of dirty tricks and smear tactics as fight for Westminster descends into mudslinging contest

By Noel McAdam

The 2015 general election has been slated as one of the nastiest in memory with allegations of dirty tricks, slurs and a lack of courtesy in victory.

One of the most distasteful episodes was the distribution of a letter claiming DUP deputy leader and North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds refused to meet the parents of a child with cerebral palsy.

The claims were particularly painful as Mr Dodds had a son, Andrew, with spina bifida, who he and his wife Diane doted on and cared for around the clock.

Andrew died before he was nine years old. Mr Dodds and the DUP blamed Sinn Fein for the smear, which it has denied.

Sinn Fein was also accused of engaging in naked sectarianism in the fight for the seat when Mr Dodds' opponent Gerry Kelly released a leaflet displaying figures from the 2011 census showing slightly more Catholics than Protestants in the constituency, with its implication that voter apathy could prove costly.

The leaflet was blasted as an egregious example of sectarian politics by all the other major parties and even some Sinn Fein activists.

Mr Dodds said: "Sinn Fein like to talk about equality in public, but privately they make it clear that equality is nothing more than a Trojan horse to break unionists.

"Publicly, Sinn Fein talk about challenging sectarianism, but then produce leaflets which rely on blatant sectarian headcounting."

Mr Dodds described the election campaign in the constituency as "one of the nastiest" in which he had been involved.

The re-elected MP slammed what he called Sinn Fein "dirty tricks" and said the DUP had "exposed" its sectarianism.

Mr Kelly was then booed as he began his speech in which he referenced Mr Dodds' "gracious acceptance speech" in ironic terms.

SDLP candidate Alban Maginness accused both the DUP and Sinn Fein of "embarking on a sectarian dogfight" in the constituency.

The adage that politics is a cruel business was borne out at several counts.

In Upper Bann, where there was no agreed unionist candidate, DUP winner David Simpson made a hard-hitting acceptance speech in which he described some of the tactics during the campaign as "unacceptable".

It's thought he was referring to some comments on social media alleged to have come from self-styled UUP supporters.

Mr Simpson has three adopted children who were apparently targeted.

One of Mr Simpson's daughters, Leah Cassells, who also works for her father, posted a picture on Facebook of herself, twin brother Steven and sister Kristy as toddlers with the comments: "This is a photo of myself, my twin brother Steven, big sister Kristy and my two grandparents who have now gone to be with the Lord! Steven and I weren't long home from Paraguay when this photo was taken!

"God blessed us with wonderful godly parents and we are so proud to be able to call them mum and dad.

"It was with sadness that I read certain posts on Facebook from UUP supporters over the past few days about our adoption. Comments that should NEVER be made so flippantly about adoption of children.

"Yes we are adopted but we are no different than anyone else!! We are very proud of where we came from and I along with my brother and sister are every much my parents children like every other parents biological child.

"We love our parents as much as they love us. We will not let online bullies get us down, we just feel sorry for them!! Adoption has brought so much happiness to millions of families around the world and ours being one of them!"

UUP contender Jo-Anne Dobson insisted her campaign had been "totally positive" compared to the DUP scare tactics of warning a split unionist vote would allow Sinn Fein to take the seat.

There was more rancour over the acceptance speech by the new DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson. A son of former First Minister Ian Paisley attacked it as "quite disgraceful".

Rev Kyle Paisley said Mr Robinson did not deserve congratulations after failing to recognise the contribution defeated Alliance candidate Naomi Long has made to the constituency.

"It has to be acknowledged that Gavin won, but the DUP is so unsure of itself in East Belfast that it has lost its independent strength where it was once very strong," he said.

"You'd think he would have had a bit more humility when he made his acceptance speech last night, but it was quite disgraceful in some parts.

"I'm not saying 'here's to you Mr Robinson', because he doesn't deserve that kind of congratulation."

A pact between the DUP and the UUP helped Mr Robinson to beat Mrs Long by more than 2,500 votes, but yesterday he was facing accusations of turning "nasty" minutes after victory.

Alliance leader David Ford said Mr Robinson's acceptance speech was probably the nastiest delivered at any UK constituency count. He said DUP leader Peter Robinson had been more gracious in defeat five years ago than his namesake Gavin had been in victory.

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Mr Robinson subsequently admitted his comments - made shortly before 3am - could have been more gracious towards Mrs Long.

Yesterday, however, he said he wished Mrs Long well and added: "I think she's a formidable politician. You can't take that away from her. She's an incredible representative, albeit we fundamentally disagree on how we should do things."

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