Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election: SDLP and DUP trade insults in Sean Kelly row

Canvassing: Sean Kelly
Canvassing: Sean Kelly
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The SDLP has challenged the DUP on its history of meetings with loyalist paramilitaries after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asked if the Shankill bomber would be canvassing with Colum Eastwood's party.

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The war of words broke out in the wake of the SDLP's decision to step aside in next month's Westminster election in North Belfast, where Nigel Dodds is battling against Sinn Fein to hold onto his seat.

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly will be canvassing for Sinn Fein. Sir Jeffrey asked if he would be canvassing for the SDLP as well.

But an SDLP spokesman accused the DUP of being "desperate to divert attention from their disastrous record at Westminster".

He said: "Sean Kelly is not and will not be a part of any SDLP canvassing team.

"Jeffrey Donaldson should clarify if the DUP plans to meet loyalist paramilitaries or paramilitary groups in the coming weeks to shore up electoral support and support for their hard Brexit position.

"The SDLP will not be seeking the support of any such groups or people. There is no pact between the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

"The SDLP took unilateral action in three constituencies to maximise the pro-Remain vote, including supporting unionist Sylvia Hermon in North Down.

"The truth is that it was the DUP's William McCrea who shared a platform with loyalist killer Billy Wright.

"It was Arlene Foster who was happy to be pictured with Dee Stitt, and just last week the DUP leadership was briefing loyalist paramilitaries on Brexit.

"Jeffrey Donaldson's latest allegation is fake news, pure and simple, which shows the desperation of the DUP."

Earlier, Sir Jeffrey said that a vote for the SDLP was akin to a vote for Sinn Fein in the Westminster poll.

He pointed to the presence of Sean Kelly, who planted an IRA bomb on the Shankill in 1993 that killed nine people.

"Sean Kelly has been canvassing for Sinn Fein in North Belfast, but will he now be canvassing on behalf of the SDLP too?" the Lagan Valley MP asked.

"I accept everyone can have a past and can change, but Sean Kelly has shown no remorse for murdering nine innocent people, including two children.

"Do the SDLP endorse his involvement in support of their pact? Given the SDLP-Sinn Fein electoral pact, will Sean Kelly be welcomed in South Belfast by Claire Hanna? Mr Eastwood must clarify.

"The SDLP and Sinn Fein will stoop to any depth to damage the DUP.

"Claire Hanna may hope to benefit from the SDLP-Sinn Fein pact, but the SDLP in South Down and Foyle certainly will not benefit.

"Unionists will be very wary of endorsing this pact."

Meanwhile, UUP MLA Doug Beattie said his party planned to stand in 17 of Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies.

It has withdrawn from North Belfast to improve Mr Dodds' chances of re-election.

Mr Beattie said his party had come under pressure to withdraw in South and East Belfast.

"I am concerned that such pressure will turn into something else, as it did in North Belfast," he added.

"At the moment, we have candidates who are willing to run. There should never be a situation where a candidate does not feel safe."

The UUP received paramilitary threats before it reversed its decision to run in North Belfast.

The Greens are set to announce today whether they are standing in the constituency.

The party was intent on running but is understood to have had second thoughts after the SDLP's withdrawal from the race.

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