'Proud unionist' Raymond McCord will be voting SDLP
Victims' campaigner Raymond McCord plans to vote for the SDLP's Nichola Mallon in next week's election, he has revealed.
The north Belfast man, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries 20 years ago, said he has made his decision because Mrs Mallon is simply "the best person for the job".
"Anyone who knows me, knows me as a proud unionist from a proud unionist family," he said.
"But I'm not afraid to say that, this time, I'm voting SDLP. In this country crossing the age-old 'green and orange' divide is still controversial. It's seen as something hardly anyone does, something that should be kept a secret.
"But I don't think it's that unusual - it's just people are afraid they'll get a massive backlash about being honest enough to say they simply want the best person possible to represent them."
Explaining his choice to vote for Ms Mallon, Mr McCord said: "She is the best person to represent me. I find her to be honest, hard working, non-sectarian - and she seems to really care about the community and victims. All of us, not just the people who happened to be born Catholic."
Mr McCord plans to give the Ulster Unionists his second preference. "I'll transfer to Robert Foster, who's a decent man too. But under no circumstances will the DUP get anything from me. Neither will Sinn Fein, because to me they're the same.
"They say they're polar opposites, but what they stand for - sectarianism, division and turning their backs on the victims of the past - are carbon copies. On one hand you have Arlene Foster and other members of the DUP being pictured with members of the UDA and pumping millions into organisations they're involved in.
"And on the other you've got Michelle O'Neill going to a memorial for IRA men, with not a thought for the families bereaved and traumatised by republican terrorists.
"They pick and choose the victims they care about, who should face justice, and ignore what doesn't suit their agenda. All victims are equal. All victims' families deserve justice."
Mr McCord insists he's not worried about speaking out about his choice.
"If anything, I'm worried more people aren't doing it," he said. "Sectarianism and tribal divides are what's holding this country back. I want the best people in Stormont doing their best for this country and the people in it.
"I don't care what religion they were born. I don't care if some day they might want a United Ireland because even if they do, unionists here need to stop being afraid of that constant threat by the DUP.
"It's scaremongering, it's not going to happen unless the people here vote for it. It's the same bogeyman being thrown at us again and again and it's an insult to our intelligence and to our confidence as a people who want to stay within Britain.
"And remember, there are people too in the so-called nationalist community who don't want to leave the UK either. It's not all black and white - or green and orange - as Arlene and Michelle want us to believe."
But, said Mr McCord, he hadn't suddenly become a staunch SDLP supporter.
"Next week I'm going to Derry, Londonderry, whatever you want to call it. I'll be knocking doors and canvassing for Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit. I'm not suddenly SDLP. I support Nichola Mallon in my constituency because she's the best person for the job," he explained.
"But I support Eamonn McCann, too, because he speaks up for the ordinary person in the street, and I'd prefer to have him up there on the Hill shouting for our rights than Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill trying to frighten all of us into sticking to the same old divisions that have destroyed Northern Ireland for far too long."