Unionist banners have been erected by the UDA targeting the family of Pat Finucane, the Belfast defence lawyer who in 1989 was assassinated by a UDA paramilitary death squad in collusion with British military intelligence.
Several banners have been erected in recent weeks which include offensive and false allegations against the family, which continues to campaign for an inquiry into the killing.
The most recent banner was hoisted by masked paramilitaries on Mayo Street off the Shankill Road in Belfast.
It carries the legend “The Republican Family” and shows John Finucane with his brother Séamus. Notably it features the picture of Pat Finucane said to have been given to the UDA when they profiled the lawyer prior to his murder in front of his young family.
Like the other banners, it urges a vote for the DUP and against John Finucane, the Sinn Féin candidate who is hoping to take the North Belfast Westminster seat from the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.
Other banners have appeared ahead of the December 12 election in Ballymena, County Antrim and in south Belfast, which also targeted local SDLP candidate Carmel Hanna.
One banner targeting Mr Finucane in Tigers’ Bay has been removed by Belfast City Council because it was on council property. The PSNI said it is still investigating if the others banners constitute a “hate incident or hate crime”.
Links between the DUP and UDA have become more organic over the course of the election campaign. Just over a month ago, DUP leader Arlene Foster and other leading DUP members were reported to have met with various UDA leaders, including one man accused of being a key link in the decision to kill Pat Finucane.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the campaign of harassment, intimidation and threats against Mr Finucane and his family as “appalling” and “dangerous”.
“It is yet another sinister attack on the democratic process in what is fast becoming a toxic and dangerous campaign. Threats like this have no place in any election campaign. North Belfast deserves better,” she said.
“I am calling in all those in positions of leadership within political unionism, and in particular the leadership of the DUP to unequivocally condemn this in the strongest possible terms.”
Sinn Féin’s North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly said the banners were an attempt to incite hatred and should be taken down.
“These banners have been erected against a backdrop of threats from loyalist paramilitaries against the UUP, Sinn Féin posters being taken down by masked men and the deafening silence of the DUP.
“The attacks on John Finucane are an attack on the wider democratic process. The DUP must break its silence on these attacks, defend the democratic process and support the police in taking action against those responsible.”
When asked about the controversy, a DUP spokesman claimed to be “unaware of the matter” but asked: “Will SF now condemn those behind the many PIRA murders in North Belfast?” Nigel Dodds, who refused to condemn the banners, expressed a similar sentiment.
Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey said the DUP response was “a transparent distraction” by a party who are “attempting to wash their hands on this issue”.
“The banners erected by hooded loyalists targeting John Finucane and his family are clearly aimed to help the DUP candidate,” he said. “All parties should unite in calling for these banners to be removed and on those responsible to desist.
“The DUP’s relationship with loyalist paramilitaries exposes entirely their hypocrisy and their selective attitude to violence and sectarianism.”
Loyalists have also been blamed for posters linking the Alliance Party and the IRA in North Down, where Stephen Farry is challenging the DUP to take the seat previously held by independent unionist Sylvia Hermon. They include the Sinn Féin and Alliance Party logos and an apparent illustration of an IRA figure. The posters state: “The Unholy Alliance/SF. If you vote for them Alliance/SF... IRA win!”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described them as threatening. “Not only are these posters disingenuous but they are also dangerous, placing myself and other Alliance candidates, as well as our canvassers and supporters, at risk,” he said.
Although the banners and posters were printed on behalf of the Tories’ former allies at Westminster, British Direct Ruler Julian Smith admitted they were “utterly offensive”. He said they had been “rightly condemned” and that “publication of offensive material... is a matter for the police”.