Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

John Finucane refuses to condemn 1996 IRA attack on DUP's Nigel Dodds

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (left) is facing a strong challenge from Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane in the race for North Belfast (PA)
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (left) is facing a strong challenge from Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane in the race for North Belfast (PA)

Sinn Fein's North Belfast General Election candidate John Finucane has refused to condemn the IRA's attempted assassination of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

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In December 1996, an RUC officer was injured when IRA gunmen opened fire on police officers guarding Mr Dodds when he was visiting his seriously ill son at the Royal Children's Hospital in west Belfast.

Gunmen fired four shots at officers in a hospital corridor as children were being treated close by. One bullet struck an officer in the foot, while another hit an empty incubator in the intensive care unit.

Speaking at the time, the Rev Ian Paisley suggested the attack was an IRA attempt to kill the policemen and then Nigel Dodds.

Incumbent North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds is running against John Finucane for the Westminster seat, in what is expected to be one of the closest contests of election.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Mr Finucane, whose father Pat was murdered by the UDA in 1989, was asked if he would condemn 1996 IRA attack.

He said: "I have an issue with selective condemnation. I think it cheapens our past. I think it is a barrier to reconciliation… I know that the pain of the Troubles visited everybody, regardless of where they came from. I want that to be dealt with."

When asked if this is a stance shared by the party, a Sinn Fein spokesperson said there will never be one "single narrative on the past".

"And there can be no hierarchy of victims. The hurt and pain of all victims of the conflict is the same," they added.

"All issues relating to the legacy of the conflict should be dealt with by the legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement.

"The British government must implement those legacy mechanisms so that all those bereaved by the conflict get access to truth."

This is not the first time Sinn Fein has been challenged over the IRA's attack on Nigel Dodds over the course of this election campaign.

Last month, Sinn Fein called on the DUP to condemn banners erected in Belfast attacking John Finucane and his family.

Party leader Arlene Foster said it was a "bit rich" listening to Sinn Fein talking about violence and hate crimes.

"We need complete clarity from Sinn Fein around some of the most violent acts that took place here in Northern Ireland," she said.

"What do they have to say about the attempted murder of my father (the late John Kelly) for example, what do they have to say about the attempted murder of Nigel Dodds?"

John Kelly, a policeman, was badly injured after being shot in an IRA attack in 1979.

Speaking to the New Statesmen, John Finucane also touched upon the banners attacking him and his family.

The North Belfast candidate said he felt the banners were not "representative of unionism".

"It’s not a style of campaigning or politics that I would be comfortable with. People should judge me on my politics, on the message that I’m bringing, on my track record," he said.

"I don’t wish to refight old battles, or use politics as a way of inflicting hurt on somebody else – no matter what the circumstances."

Nigel Dodds, who has condemned the banners, said it would be wrong to "overplay" this election campaign as being "particularly vicious".

"The campaigners are getting on with their campaigns, and they’re doing what they do. I don’t think it’s been any particularly worse than previous campaigns, particularly with (convicted IRA bomber and previous Sinn Fein Westminster candidate) Gerry Kelly in the field.”

The DUP deputy leader said that, while North Belfast will be a close contest, he is "very confident" he will retain the seat.

“It’s marginal. I’ve never considered moving away from North Belfast. I’ve never considered taking a different path, which would have been on offer - and perhaps easier," he said.

"I love the North Belfast constituency, despite all of its challenges and difficulties and all it’s gone through, and the people. So, for me, I’m fighting this to win - and I’m very confident we’ll win it.”

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