Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: DUP should be wary of casting first stone in Shankill bomber row

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The SDLP's decision not to stand a candidate in North Belfast has infuriated the DUP.

The stakes couldn't be higher. The importance of Nigel Dodds can't be over-emphasised.

Of the party's 10 MPs, he commands the most respect across unionism by a country mile.

The DUP will use everything in its armoury to secure his position.

So the presence of Shankill bomber Sean Kelly on Sinn Fein's canvassing team has once again been raised.

But now the DUP is casting its net to include the SDLP. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday asked if Kelly would be out working for the SDLP too.

"Given the SDLP/SF electoral pact, will Sean Kelly be welcome in South Belfast by Claire Hanna?" he enquired.

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Any attempt to link the SDLP to a bomb which killed nine civilians is preposterous, as is the idea that Kelly would join Hanna's canvassing team, and the DUP knows that.

The SDLP MLA has consistently opposed violence and those who use it throughout her career. Her party has many failings but cosying up to paramilitaries isn't one of them.

When Paul Quinn was brutally beaten to death by the Provisional IRA in a border barn 12 years ago, it was South Armagh SDLP representatives who fought their corner while the DUP did diddly-squat, and happily remained in government with Sinn Fein.

Rev Willie McCrea's decision to share a platform with LVF killer Billy Wright never damaged his DUP career.

Before the DUP is going to throw stones at any other party, perhaps it should look at its own canvassing teams. In May's council election in north Belfast, it was joined on the campaign trail by convicted drugs dealer Mark Officer. He was jailed in 2015 after a cocaine haul worth almost £1m was seized by police.

Orangeman John Aughey - jailed for dragging a schoolgirl under the wheels of his car during a nationalist protest at Ardoyne - signed Dale Pankhurst's nomination form.

Ex-UVF gunman Robert Hayes Spence - who was jailed for 12 years for attempted murder - also signed Pankhurst's papers. The DUP councillor said he knew Spence had been involved in the conflict but wasn't aware he had served time in jail.

Nigel Dodds' election campaign is supported by PUP councillor and former UVF killer, Billy Hutchinson, who signed a letter calling on the UUP to step aside in the constituency to help the DUP.

Then we have DUP Antrim mayor John Smyth, a convicted UVF bomber. Are all these people entitled to be politically involved? Absolutely.

The point is that the DUP is guilty of the most breath-taking double standards by seeking to tarnish the SDLP with Sean Kelly's presence on another party's canvassing team.

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