Paisley launches scary campaign
A former member of the SDLP has launched a stinging attack on his own party which he claims lacks talent and is ``bereft of political ideas''.
Describing it as a ``tired old party'', a former prospective candidate for the election said the new SDLP was ``a pale shadow'' of the party it once was.
While next month's election to the Belfast Assembly threatens to become dominated by the crisis within unionism, the outburst by Pat Healy from County Down has served to focus attention on the battle for nationalist vote.
Healy said he was disillusioned by the ``yuppiedom'' which permeates SDLP headquarters.
``It is abundantly clear that the integrity once associated with the party has now disappeared,'' he said. ``The yuppiedom that now permeates the corridors of Ormeau Road is a far cry from the traditional socialist principles that were once the hallmarks of the SDLP.
There was, Mr Healy said, some recognition of the problem within the party.
``This is evidenced by recent press and broadcast releases designed to appeal to those with a historic fondness for the party. It is an attempt to paper over the cracks, to hoodwink the electorate with oodles of sentimentality.
``It won't work and in the words of party leader Mark Durkan the proof will be in forthcoming assembly election results.''
However, Ian Paisley's DUP has drawn the early headlines in the election campaign.
The aged Reverend launched his party's election campaign yesterday at the Ramada Hotel in south Belfast with his trademark fire-and-brimstone appeal to the electorate.
He described the election date as ``the day when the false and lying stewards will be called upon to give account of their unfaithful stewardship''.
He gloried in the confirmation that the election would be allowed to proceed, and heaped abuse on British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.
``The hand of history evidently has removed itself from the shoulder of Prime Minister Blair to his throat and choking back his own deceit and that of Trimble, both have been forced to bow to the mysterious sovereignty of divine providence.''
Mr Paisley continued: ``The Prime Minister is loud in the praise of those who destroy lives but he is mute in the praise of those who gave their lives to defend life.
``Shame! Undying shame is upon him and his ilk.
``In the strange exposure at Hillsborough, the hidden things of darkness from the nether basement of 10 Downing Street have come to light. There must be no more concealment.''
On Wednesday, Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness strongly criticised the DUP, claiming they were ``trying to fool the electorate about their ability to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement after this election.
``That is not going to happen and I think there are people in the party who know that,'' he said.
Despite last week's collapse of a deal to rescue the Agreement, Mr McGuinness said that Sinn Fein was ``hitting the ground running'' during the election and was hopeful further political progress could be made.
The Mid-Ulster MP insisted the re-establishment of the political institutions should remain a ``huge priority''.
Any review of the Good Friday Agreement in December after the elections should not be used as a substitute for the assembly and other institutions, he warned.
The Sinn Fein MP added: ``I believe real progress was made in the discussions with the Ulster Unionist Party and the two governments. That progress must be built upon.''
DUP `RAN AWAY'
UUP vice-president Sir Reg Empey attacked the DUP promise to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement as ``breathtaking hypocrisy''.
``They appear to see no contradiction in their claim to oppose the Agreement and all its works and then tell the voters of all they achieved while working the Belfast Agreement.
``In 1997, the DUP ran away from the Mitchell talks and left other unionists alone to represent the pro-Union people.
``Then they criticise those of us who stayed to fight, attack the institutions that we created and then proceed to work the Agreement.
``What credibility do they now have when they say they want a new deal? They had the opportunity to negotiate and failed to seize it.''
``Now, Ian Paisley says Sinn Fein must disband and reform before he will talk to them. Does anybody believe that is going to happen?
``He then says he will talk to the Prime Minister. Last week, he called Mr Blair a liar. So who are the DUP going to talk to and what proposals are they going to put on the table?
``Whatever the shortcomings of the present, the fact is that decommissioning has occurred but, unfortunately, not in a manner to maximise public confidence.''
But the DUP has dismissed efforts be their Ulster Unionist rivals to unite around a manifesto. Paisleyite Iris Robinson insisted the Ulster Unionists are in ``total disarray'' after a number of the party's candidates backed out of the battle.
The latest, former Assembly member Tom Hamilton, withdrew from the race for a seat in Strangford due to employment commitments.
Mrs Robinson said she was not surprised. ``Like John Taylor, Mr Hamilton read the writing on the wall and jumped before the electorate pushed,'' the Strangford MP claimed.
Today, a hyperactive DUP campaign presented a slide show depicting the ``horror'' of Sinn Fein Ministers returning to government.
``Over the next five years we could have the nightmare of Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness starring as Deputy First Minister,'' said DUP MP Gregory Campbell.
``Gerry Kelly is in line for a starring role in the part of the Policing and Justice Minister.''
Former Sinn Fein health minister Bairbre de Brun today said she was bemused by the scare tactics, but said her party was prepared to work with whoever unionist voters elected.
``We respect the electorate. We respect the right for them to vote for whoever they want to vote for.
``We are not into social engineering. There are other people who believe that you can't even have an election unless you can predict the outcome.
``That is not our way. We will work with whoever the unionist people put forward as their chosen elected representative.''
The UDA's political party, the UDP, was disbanded last year following a bloody internal dispute. The UPRG now represents the UDA in the political arena, but McCoubrey said he was not running as a member of the UPRG, which was was not a political party.