Sinn Féin’s European election candidate in the Six Counties, Martina Anderson, clashed with hardline unionist Jim Allister on live television as campaigning for the European elections to be held across Ireland reached a climax.
Ms Anderson appeared on UTV’s politics programme ‘The View from Stormont’ with five other European election candidates standing in the North: Diane Dodds (DUP), Naomi Long (Alliance Party), Danny Kennedy (UUP), Colum Eastwood (SDLP) and Jim Allister (TUV).
Ms Anderson reminded Allister, whose party lost half of its elected councillors in local elections earlier this month, that the North of Ireland voted clearly against Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
But Allister reacted angrily, waving his hand up towards Ms Anderson’s face. “Don’t you talk to me about democracy - you set out with the bomb and the bullet,” he said. “You are a vicious bomber.”
“I think Jim needs some manners,” said Ms Anderson, before raising her hand in a ‘body space’ gesture. “That’s twice Jim and I am going to ask Jim, who is sitting beside me, to please have a little bit of manners because you are in my face - no more!”
Thursday’s election to the European election will be closely watched to see how Brexit politics has altered the traditional nationalist/unionist split in the three-seat northern constituency.
A slight demographic shift since the last election in 2014 could improve the prospect of a historic change from two unionist seats to two nationalists. That could happen if Martina Anderson retains her seat and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood wins enough first preferences to avoid being eliminated before the moderate unionist (and anti-Brexit) Alliance Party, who are also competing for the third seat against the Ulster Unionist Party.
The stakes are high for both Irish unity and peace -- the election of two nationalists to one unionist would make the demand for a border poll on reunification, a key element of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, irrefutable. That in turn could potentially bring about an end to the armed actions of breakaway IRA groups.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Martina Anderson to be given the number one preference, before transferring to “pro-remain, progressive candidates”.
“Brexit changes everything for all of us, and it’s for that reason that we identify this as maybe a unique and unifying moment of solidarity for people who want what is best for all of us right across Ireland,” she said.
The SDLP parked their ‘battle bus’ symbolically on the Derry/Donegal border on Wednesday as they launched their campaign to “take back [former SDLP leader] John Hume’s seat in the European Parliament and deliver a second pro-Europe MEP”.
Colum Eastwood was joined by Fianna Fáil TD, Charlie McConalogue, a sign that the two parties are still on course for a future coalition.
“This is a critical election,” said Eastwood. “For three years, the voice of the pro-Europe majority in northern Ireland has been silenced, sidelined and ignored. That ends here and it ends now. This campaign is an opportunity to reassert our demand to remain in the European Union.
“The European Union is proof that the simplest of ideas are always the most powerful. After centuries of division and conflict, people across Europe made a lasting choice. We decided that bridges work so much better than borders.”
Also contesting the Six County Euro election on Thursday May 23 are Claire Bailey of the Green party, Tory candidate Amandeep Singh Bhogal, UKIP’s Robert Hill, and Independents Jane Morrice and Neil McCann. European parliament elections also take place in the 26 Counties on the following day.
Coverage of these, as well as the 26 County local elections also being held on Friday, will begin here beginning on Thursday evening, with full news of all the results as they emerge over the weekend.