Sinn Féin has accused the DUP of forming electoral alliances with active paramilitaries and demonising republicans and nationalists in an attempt to provide itself with cover.
It comes after a masked UDA gang was spotted removing Sinn Féin election posters in Belfast. The unionist paramilitary group has admitted to journalists it is ready to “do all that’s needed” to save the north Belfast seat for DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in the forthcoming Westminster election.
Loyalist banners erected in the past two weeks have bizarrely attempted to link the SDLP candidate in south Belfast, Claire Hanna, as well as Sinn Féin’s north Belfast candidate, John Finucane, to former IRA Volunteer Sean Kelly.
Sinn Féin leader Lou McDonald said the controversy had been contrived by the DUP. She said criticism of Mr Kelly working as a Sinn Féin canvasser in north Belfast was “the height of hypocrisy”.
She noted that the DUP were sharing platforms with “active loyalist paramilitaries involved in all kinds of criminality, and then to cast up a story around an individual who they know full well has backed, solidly backed, the peace over the last two decades.”
“I think it’s important for all of us that we don’t walk ourselves into cul-de-sacs around the past that can’t really afford any comfort or resolution for victims and survivors and they just become party political platforms for people to have a go. I don’t think there’s any value in that,” Ms McDonald said.
“I’m not going to take a lecture from anybody in the DUP and I’d advise them to look in the mirror before pointing the finger at others.”
The DUP has yet to condemn the masked men who were seen removing Sinn Féin’s election posters.
Former Sinn Féin assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin said her party had complained to the PSNI police after the banners were taken down on Belfast’s Oldpark Road.
She said: “Only last week, the UDA threatened members of the Ulster Unionist Party simply because the party had indicated it might field a candidate in the election in North Belfast.
“Those threats were made only days before the UUP said it would not enter the contest, giving a clear run to the DUP.”
According to a report in the Sunday World, UDA chiefs have pledged to do “all that’s needed” to ensure a DUP election victory in North Belfast, where John Finucane is in an extremely tight battle with ultra-Brexiteer Nigel Dodds.
Ms Ni Chuilin said that in the latest incident, “men with their faces covered mounted a ladder to remove Sinn Féin election posters from the Oldpark Road”.
“Our party has made a complaint to the police about this criminal act of theft,” she added.
“A pattern of threats and intimidation is emerging in this contest and this latest action is another sinister attempt to derail the democratic process.
“There is a responsibility for these threats and attempts to demonise [Sinn Féin candidate] John Finucane to be condemned across the board and a duty on the police to take these actions seriously.
“It’s time for the DUP to make it clear it supports without any equivocation the democratic process and to put distance between itself and active loyalist paramilitary groups engaged in intimidation and threats to kill.”