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Election briefing: From a cross-party SDLP effort and Alliance contradictions to an escalation of poster wars

Andrew Madden


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The SDLP billboard that was destroyed in Derry

The SDLP billboard that was destroyed in Derry

The SDLP billboard that was destroyed in Derry

The Northern Ireland Assembly election will be in full flow in just three days' time as the campaign trail approaches its destination.

Here’s a round-up of Monday’s big talking points:

All in for the SDLP

It seems to be a cross-party campaign effort for the SDLP in the run-up to polling day.

A previous election digest noted that Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond has been on the campaign trail with the SDLP’s South Belfast candidate Elsie Trainor. However, it isn’t just Leo Varadkar’s party that is helping out.

Last month, Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin was in Londonderry for a couple of days, pictured alongside SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. The pair weren’t knocking on doors, but they did discuss issues that the SDLP is campaigning on, such as tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Eastwood even posted a video to his Facebook page of the two out and about in the city, with the caption: “Great to have the Taoiseach Micheal Martin in Derry to discuss massive commitment to the north west through the Shared Island Unit and other cross-border issues such as rising bills, Mica redress and issues that affect people’s lives.”

Now it seems the Irish Labour Party has also got in on the act. Leader Ivana Bacik has been spotted out with Ms Trainor and SDLP MP Claire Hanna in south Belfast. On Monday, Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain was also joining in. “Belfast bound. Stick the kettle on @MatthewOToole2,” he tweeted.

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The more, the merrier, it seems when it comes to election season.

Contradiction?

It was the Alliance Party’s turn in the hot seat on Monday, with MP Stephen Farry facing a grilling on the BBC’s Nolan Show.

There seemed to be a bit of a contradiction when Mr Farry was asked about Sinn Fein approaching Saoradh over possible co-operation on a border poll.

He said these groups should have “no role” in such a “project”. However, at the same time, the party’s manifesto pledges to create a “protocol” for community and public bodies engaging with representatives from paramilitary groups.

Asked about this apparent discrepancy, Mr Farry replied: “What we are trying to do is create a culture in the public sector as to how you distinguish between what are legitimate community voices, including people that may well have transitioned from what are still paramilitary structures, and at times that can be rather unclear. Mistakes may well happen, but we are trying to create a discipline in our public sector that can distinguish between those different dynamics.

“What the manifesto is saying is that, it is reflecting the starting point that [talking to paramilitaries] is a current reality on the ground in Northern Ireland for many public agencies. It’s about acknowledging that this is happening and moving the agencies away from that type of practice, as to how they get, shall we say, short-term outcomes in some communities in Northern Ireland where paramilitaries are far too powerful still, 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.”

Poster wars escalation

We have seen many thefts and instances of vandalism relating to political posters across Northern Ireland as polling day nears, but in Londonderry, it seems things have escalated.

Instead of simply tearing a poster off a lamp post or daubing paint on it, some SDLP opponents have taken things a step further – destroying a massive election billboard.

It happened in the Bonds Hill area in the early hours of Saturday and the PSNI is investigating. Here’s my question – who would head out at that time and go to all the effort of destroying an entire billboard? Nothing better to do?


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