Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election: DUP's Dodds condemns Finucane banners and challenges SF to follow example

DUP leader Arlene Foster and North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds at yesterday’s DUP press conference
DUP leader Arlene Foster and North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds at yesterday’s DUP press conference
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Nigel Dodds has said the DUP will be seen as the voice of Northern Ireland if it has the most MPs after the election.

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Opponents have long bemoaned the party's backing for Brexit, despite the majority of people here voting to remain in the EU.

The outgoing North Belfast MP used the launch of a policy document on Tuesday to condemn banners attacking the family of his election rival, Sinn Fein's John Finucane.

The DUP deputy leader, who faces a battle to keep his seat at Westminster following the withdrawal of the SDLP from the contest, challenged Sinn Fein to step up and condemn every act of violence from every paramilitary organisation.

Mr Dodds said that while his party had been "crystal clear" over the personal abuse of candidates, Sinn Fein had remained "selective" in its criticism.

"The banners and posters have nothing to do with our campaign. We knew nothing about them and I want to make it very clear that anything that is personally abusive or offensive, inaccurate and smearing of any candidate in any political party is to be condemned," he said.

"This is nothing to do with a proper democratic debate or a democratic election, so I want to make that very clear indeed.

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"Our party has been crystal clear on these issues, on violence and on the use of violence.

"The challenge to all parties is the same. We see some vile internet trolling of victims, of unionists politicians as well, and that's to be condemned.

"But there's also a challenge to Sinn Fein in this election. They can't be selective here. We condemn every act of violence from every paramilitary organisation. Do they do that? Will they do that? Will they condemn the IRA who went into a hospital 20 years ago and shot a police officer guarding me? Do they condemn it? No, they don't."

Some of the party’s candidates who are standing next month
Some of the party’s candidates who are standing next month

DUP leader Arlene Foster also called on Sinn Fein to specifically condemn the IRA's attempted murder of her father in 1979 and the attempt on the life of Mr Dodds on December 21, 1996, as he visited his seriously ill seven-year-old son in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

She said: "We need complete clarity from Sinn Fein around some of the most violent acts that took place here.

"What do they have to say about the attempted murder of my father, for example? What do they have to say about the attempted murder of Nigel Dodds?"

However, Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey accused the DUP of "causing a distraction" and wanting to "talk about anything rather than their reckless Brexit agenda".

"The banners erected by hooded loyalists targeting John Finucane and his family are clearly aimed to help the DUP candidate," he said.

"The DUP's relationship with loyalist paramilitaries exposes entirely their hypocrisy and their selective attitude to violence and sectarianism."

Looking ahead to the December 12 poll, Mr Dodds said: "Make no mistake, the party that has most members of Parliament elected after this election will be seen as the voice of Northern Ireland.

"One thing you can be sure of is, if elected, our candidates will turn up and speak up for you."

Mrs Foster said should the DUP retain its position as the largest Northern Irish party at Westminster, she would not support Jeremy Corbyn if the election results in a Labour-led hung parliament.

"We are very clear that we will not be supporting Jeremy Corbyn. We believe Jeremy Corbyn would be hugely detrimental to the United Kingdom in terms of the break-up of the United Kingdom," she said.

"We have heard the whole discussion around the Scottish independence referendum. We would be very fearful for the economy of the United Kingdom and we would be very fearful for the defence of our United Kingdom on a global scale," she said.

"There are many reasons why we couldn't in all consciousness support a Jeremy Corbyn-led administration."

Mrs Foster said that the frustration of voters at the inability to get things done locally was shared and that her party remained ready, willing and able to return to Stormont.

"The cliff edge has been created by the Sinn Fein boycott," she added.

"We want to go back in. Other issues can be dealt with in a parallel process. Let us deal with difficult issues separately.

"We all stood for election. We all put our mandates out there. Normally we then go in and try to deliver that mandate. Instead, what happened was Sinn Fein said, 'No, we're not going in'. That's wrong."

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