The SDLP leader said he will not take lectures on paramilitarism from the DUP amid ongoing controversy over the Shankill bomber’s role in the election campaign.
Sean Kelly’s apparent involvement as a Sinn Fein canvasser in North Belfast has prompted DUP criticism of the SDLP’s decision to stand aside in the constituency to boost the republican party’s chances of unseating DUP stalwart Nigel Dodds.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson even suggested Mr Kelly might canvas in support of the SDLP in South Belfast, where Sinn Fein has withdrawn in a reciprocal move to help the nationalist party take a DUP seat.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood rejected any notion his party was aligning itself with campaigning that involved the notorious IRA bomber.
He further accused the DUP of consorting with loyalist paramilitaries on a regular basis.
“The DUP have been cosying up to loyalist paramilitaries when the SDLP have been facing down republican paramilitaries and loyalist paramilitaries from any hue in any place because that’s what we do,” he told the BBC.
“So I’ll not take any lectures from the DUP or anyone else about our involvement with paramilitaries.
“It is absolutely and totally offensive and nobody believes it.”
Sir Jeffrey said the SDLP was being hypocritical.
“We have had numerous attacks by the SDLP on the DUP because we have engaged with community groups that include people who have a past involvement in paramilitary organisations,” he said.
“We have a situation now in North Belfast where the SDLP have withdrawn in favour of Sinn Fein.”
He added: “We know that Sean Kelly the Shankill bomber has been involved in the Sinn Fein campaign there.”
Controversy also flared ahead of the 2017 General Election when it emerged that Mr Kelly was canvassing for Sinn Fein in North Belfast.
Mr Kelly was convicted for his role in the 1993 IRA bomb that killed nine Protestants in a fish shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast.
He was badly injured when the bomb, which the IRA claimed was meant to target a loyalist paramilitary meeting above the shop, detonated prematurely.
Fellow IRA bomber Thomas Begley died in the blast.