Belfast Telegraph

They try to hide it but Sinn Fein's leaflets show they're as sectarian as ever

By Nelson McCausland

After the last general election in May, candidates had to submit a record of their expenses to the electoral office. Those expenses have just been made public, and, as usual, they produce a story or two for the media.

In the case of the Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, the story is that he printed just 2,500 copies of a controversial leaflet which was criticised at the time as "sectarian".

It was known the leaflet was produced, but we now know they made just 2,500. It is clear that the leaflet was to be distributed only in some core republican areas, or to those who had been identified as Sinn Fein voters.

Before the election, Sinn Fein were publicly claiming that they were on the road to victory. The contentious leaflet stated that, according to the 2011 census figures, the constituency was 46.94% Catholic and 45.67% Protestant.

This was a disingenuous reading of the census figures, but that was their claim. The claims in the leaflet were based on a crude sectarian headcount and assumed that every Roman Catholic voted nationalist or republican.

As Nigel Dodds said at the time: "Publicly, Sinn Fein talks about challenging sectarianism but then produces leaflets which rely on blatant sectarian head-counting."

So, why did Sinn Fein think that a sectarian election leaflet would strike a chord with republican voters?

For a long time, nationalists and republicans in north Belfast have peddled myths about the growth in the nationalist population. Indeed, one SDLP representative even claimed that it would take nearly every square inch of land in the constituency to accommodate them. The leaflet was based on that erroneous narrative.

In the end, it did not work for them, and Dodds was returned as MP for North Belfast with 19,096 votes, while Gerry Kelly, came well behind with just 13,770.

Even if the SDLP had stood aside and all their votes had been transferred to Sinn Fein - which would simply not happen - Dodds would still have had a majority of nearly 2,000.

The DUP vote was up by 7%, while the Sinn Fein vote was marginally down and the SDLP were down by 4.1%. The turnout was up by almost 3%, and the unionist majority was up by more than 7%. The wheels had fallen off the Sinn Fein project.

So how did Sinn Fein handle their defeat? The Sinn Fein bulletin before the election was full of boundless confidence, but the 20-page bulletin issued after the election made no mention of the election at all.

In the famous episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty used the phrase, "Don't mention the war!" In this case, it was, "Don't mention the election!"

It was as if there had been no election campaign at all, but that is the way Sinn Fein do it: bury the defeat and press on.

Back in 1993, the journalist Fionnuala O'Connor wrote In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland. At one point in the book, she described Tony, who was an academic from Londonderry who had come to Belfast and had encountered what he saw as a more extreme and sectarian republicanism.

He recalled: "I remember talking to this quite senior guy in north Belfast. We were standing looking over to the Shankill and we were talking about our dreams for Ireland. And he said - there wasn't drink, or anything, involved, he was quite rational - he said, 'Tony, what I'd really love is to be able to stand here and see just green fields'. And I says: 'Come on'. And he says: 'No, that is my dream for Ireland. I would like to see those Orange b******* just wiped out."'

The fact that Sinn Fein produced such a sectarian election leaflet tells us something about the mindset in that party and about the community to which it appeals. That should be a cause of concern for all of us.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

Belfast Telegraph


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