The political vacuum in the North continues to be filled by unionist anger at Sinn Fein over bizarre incidents and minor issues.
For the second time this year, the actions of a senior Sinn Fein politician on a social media video made headlines. Unionists were infuriated after the party’s policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, was seen removing a parking clamp from his car.
The North Belfast representative was filmed last Friday using bolt cutters to detach the clamp placed on his car by a private company near a gym he was using in the city centre.
While new Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald laughed off the incident, unionists demanded his resignation. Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said Mr Kelly should “do the decent thing”. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds claimed it was symptomatic of a “wider pattern” of Sinn Fein behaviour and represented a “significant test for the leadership”.
Mr Kelly explained this week that he called the clamping company when he came out of the gym but got no response from them. He said he needed to get to meetings and noticed there were bolt cutters in the gym. He said they used them to access lockers.
“I removed the chain and then arranged a meeting with police”, he said. “I did what I did, I regret doing it,” he added. “I haven’t done it before. People think I carry bolt cutters in my car - to be clear this is the first time I’ve done it and won’t be doing it again.”
It is the second video row to hit Sinn Fein after its West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff uploaded a clip of himself standing in a shop with a loaf of bread on his head. The bread involved was the British brand ‘Kingsmill’, taken by some unionists as a mocking reference to a tragedy of the same name in the North.
Republicans were left scratching their heads over another storm involving a social media comment by Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, in which he criticised unionist majority rule in the North in the 1960s.
The exchange is related to an ongoing row among some northern politicians over which groups can take credit for the Civil Rights Association, an organisation formed to fight for civil rights for nationalists almost 50 years ago.
The row flared after SDLP leader Colum Eastwood posted a tweet saying he was glad to support the commemoration of the suffrage movement in Britain winning votes for women 100 years ago.
“We can’t forget that it took the Civil Rights Association here to ensure that all people got full access to voting rights,” he added.
That message led to Mr Maskey responding on Monday night: “Unfortunately it took more than the CRA [Civil Rights Association] to secure rights in the putrid little statelet NI.”
Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said Mr Maskey’s tweet “clearly” praised the “murderous terror campaign inflicted on our society by the IRA, supported and promoted by Sinn Fein”.
Calling on the Sinn Fein leadership to discipline Mr Maskey, DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly said that describing the North as a “putrid little statelet” showed “utter contempt” for those in the North who were “deeply proud” of its community and its achievements in so many areas at home and abroad.
Defending his statement, Mr Maskey pointed out the North had been a “unionist-dominated apartheid state, founded on religious and civil discrimination, and which denied citizens fundamental rights such as the right to vote”.
He wrote: “Peaceful civil rights demonstrators were beaten off the streets in an effort to crush the demands for civil and human rights; special powers were used to suppress protest; and the state forces played an active role in sectarian pogroms of the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s. The Unionist Party presided over all of that.”
He said faux outrage from unionists ignored the fact that people in the Civil Rights Association “right through to progressive unionists” opposed sectarian discrimination and fought for civil and human rights for all.