Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: General Election campaign isn't in the gutter... it's in the sewer

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The history of the Troubles is littered with callousness, but there is something particularly horrific about a gunman entering a hospital.

It violates every human rights standard in the book.

Nigel Dodds' seven-year-old son Andrew had spina bifida and hydrocephalus. In December 1996, he was in Belfast's Royal Children's Hospital when the IRA burst into the building.

A gunman opened fire in a corridor on a policeman guarding the DUP politician. One bullet hit an empty incubator. A child had died just before the shooting. Andrew's illness had already placed his family under severe pressure, so imagine the trauma added by a gun attack outside the intensive care unit five days before Christmas. The Dodds family handled the attack with great dignity.

The DUP raised the shooting on Tuesday at the launch of a policy document in Belfast.

Arlene Foster called on Sinn Fein to condemn it and the attempted murder of her RUC officer father.

The DUP was responding to calls for it to condemn banners attacking Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane, his murdered solicitor father Pat and other family members.

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The DUP did so on Tuesday, but the impression remains that at least some in the party were not too unhappy about the material. There was certainly a significant silence on it for a time. The DUP had said on Monday it was "unaware" of the banners.

So far this Westminster election campaign isn't in the gutter - it's in the sewer, with victims bandied about as pawns. Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon was killed in the Shankill bomb, made this point so powerfully last week, but those behind these sick displays aren't listening.

Neither community has a monopoly on suffering. John Finucane was eight years old when two UDA gunmen burst into his north Belfast home as the family ate Sunday dinner in February 1989.

The children hid under the kitchen table as the shots rang out.

Victims from all sections of our community deserve better than to be employed as election weapons by any side. And for what purpose?

The DUP entered the Executive with Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister. It knew his past all too well.

Indeed, McGuinness occupied a very senior position in the Provisionals when the Dodds hospital attack occurred.

He never condemned IRA attacks, and no Sinn Fein member ever will.

Will this be a deal-breaker for the DUP when there is eventually serious dialogue about restoring Stormont? Absolutely not.

Despite the current bad blood between the parties, Arlene Foster sent out a very positive message about returning to government with Sinn Fein at her party conference three weeks ago.

Mary Lou McDonald reciprocated in similar fashion at her party's ard fheis last weekend.

The challenge to the DUP and Sinn Fein is to fight this election on substantive issues. Let them go hammer and tongs at each other on policy matters. There are 22 days left in this election campaign. Please let's raise the standard of the debate.

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