Sinn Fein was first out of the traps for the election race yesterday — with an appeal for unionists to “come out and vote”.
Gerry Adams sought to capitalise on the party’s recent success in the Republic by launching a poster campaign promising “leadership across Ireland”.
The ex-West Belfast MP returned to his former constituency and urged unionist parties to “get real” over the key issues in the election — such as protecting existing jobs and creating new employment — rather than focusing on who will be First Minister in the next Assembly.
Mr Adams said the unionist parties were involved in a “sham fight” over the post when the reality remains there is “not one iota of difference” between First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the powers they wield.
“Unionists should get real about what the issues are. The (First and Deputy First Ministers) have co-equal powers in a co-equal department,” the new TD for Louth argued.
And while making clear he does not expect unionists to vote for a republican party, Mr Adams told the Belfast Telegraph he was not just seeking to take votes from the SDLP.
“The biggest section of working- class unionism are those who don’t vote, who were abandoned many decades ago by ‘big house’ unionism and don’t feel any affinity with politics,” he said.
“I would be very, very pleased if these people came out and registered their vote. I am not suggesting that unionists are going to ‘flip’ and become republicans overnight, but many will recognise it is the issues of disadvantage which we have prioritised.”
Mr Adams’ unusual overture to unionist voters came as First Minister Peter Robinson became the first DUP candidate to officially hand in his nomination papers.
And in a single sentence the DUP leader took a side-swipe at his two main rival parties, the Ulster Unionists and Traditional Unionists.
“Whilst some parties are riddled with divisions and are tearing themselves apart, others want to drag us back to instability,” he said.