I spent about half an hour on the beat with a small, but dedicated band of SDLP supporters trudging around the upper end of Andersonstown in the freezing rain last night. They are looking for about 10,000 votes in a vast constituency with a tiny party machine in Sinn Fein heartland. If last night is anything to go by, their voters are being targeted over and over again. One guy told Attwood, he’d had two leaflets and letter from Gerry Adams in the space of the last few days. The 87 votes between Dodds and the fifth Sinn Fein candidate, Sue Ramsay, is the primary theme. Although this particular voter reckoned that Attwood, rather than Dodds, was the real target.
At the same time, former Republican supporters are virtually being ignored in the canvass. The conventional wisdom is that in the forsaking of one, and courting of the other, Sinn Fein will reap more than they sow in this election. Attwood, as you might expect, demurs. There seems to be a reckoning in this election.
One old timer, a veteran from the IRA’s 1950’s campaign, and a former Sinn Fein party worker was irked enough to promise Attwood his second preference purely on the SDLP’s consistency over policing and other matters – independent Republican Geraldine Taylor will be getting his first. When asked why, “It’s the lies” he said, “I don’t see why if they were going to sign up for policing they couldn’t have done it years ago”.
“We’re getting stories like that every night”, Attwood claims. And there is some circumstantial evidence, in certain areas like Ballymurphy, that Sinn Fein is no longer the popular force it once was. There seems to be a cat and mouse game going on between people putting posters up and those ripping them down. It’s strange to drive around such a hardline Republican area, and see the majority of signs still up are those of the SDLP. Even stranger to discover the UUP have been leafleting some of the houses here.
On the Whiterock Road last night, someone had erected four Adams’ posters, one on top of the other: clearly determined to get the message across no matter what plans the weather or their opponents might have to the contrary. With only a day to go before the poll they should do the job. But it’s clear that Sinn Fein’s mind, and the efforts of its workers are elsewhere these days.