As DUP councillor Marc Collins is suspended over tweets about Sinn Fein's John Finucane, Suzanne Breen looks back at the brutal North Belfast general election campaign in 2019.
John Finucane versus Nigel Dodds was political box-office gold — the young nationalist challenger versus the seasoned unionist pro.
It was an unbelievably tense and tough campaign because so much was at stake in North Belfast in December 2019.
Dodds was a hugely respected figure in unionism. Had he wanted, he could have succeeded the Rev Ian Paisley as DUP leader in 2008 or Peter Robinson in 2015, but he was content to remain as the loyal, rock-solid deputy.
Sinn Fein knew that removing him from Westminster would significantly weaken the DUP.
Candidates don’t come much better for the republican party than the solicitor son of a murdered solicitor. A professional with the common touch, he ticks every box in the direction it wants to travel. He is undoubtedly a future leader.
Now a DUP member of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Marc Collins has been suspended for eight months for tweets about Mr Finucane during the election campaign.
One retweet was of a message promoting vile banners erected by a coterie of loyalists about the Sinn Fein candidate three years ago.
Mimicking horror movie advertisements, they featured photos of Mr Finucane, his late father Pat and other relatives with blood dripping from them.
“The real Finucane family, human rights abusers steeped in the blood of our innocents,” the banners declared.
The deepest, darkest depths of the barrel had been well and truly scraped.
John Finucane was not a combatant in the conflict. He was a victim — an innocent victim, as was his father Pat.
As a child, he witnessed the most horrific scene. UDA gunmen broke down the family’s front door with a sledgehammer and burst into the kitchen where the Finucanes were eating Sunday dinner.
Pat was shot 14 times in the head, neck and chest. Some of the bullets were fired from a range of 15 inches when he was on the ground. Eight-year-old John, his brother Michael and sister Katherine hid under the table. Their mother Geraldine was also injured by a ricocheting bullet that struck her ankle.
One of the banners was erected in Mayo Street, off the Shankill Road. Another in Tigers Bay was removed by council workers with a police guard. Others went up in York Street, Ballymena and Antrim’s Steeple Estate. Sinn Fein called on unionists to condemn the “sinister and dangerous campaign of threats and intimidation against John Finucane and his family”.
The DUP response seemed underwhelming. A spokesman said it was “unaware of the matter”.
He added: “If it has been reported to the police, then anyone with information should help their inquiries.
“The DUP consistently condemns violence or anyone inciting hatred.
“Will Sinn Fein now condemn those behind the many PIRA murders in North Belfast?”
Nigel Dodds and his family had been at the centre of a traumatic IRA attack in December 1996 when gunmen opened fire on policemen guarding the politician in the Royal Victoria Hospital as he visited his seriously ill son Andrew.
Ultimately, the election campaign attacks on John Finucane by loyalists did the DUP MP no favours.
They backfired big-time and created a well of sympathy for the Sinn Fein candidate among nationalists far outside the party fold.
The count wasn’t the nail-biter predicted. Mr Finucane made history and won by almost 2,000 votes.