Today Sinn Fein launched their plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in North Belfast. As pacts have dominated the headlines I caught up with the party’s sitting MLA and Westminster candidate, Gerry Kelly to get his views about deal announced on St. Patrick’s Day.
I began by asking him what his initial thoughts were on the pact?
Kelly told me that it whilst four constituencies were included it was really a two seat pact to deal with East and North Belfast. In his view, the UUP did not really feature in the negotiations as he believes that the DUP “took them in and spat them out,” but the Sinn Fein candidate told me the DUP wanted a pact as he knew that Sinn Fein were getting closer to taking the seat as evidenced by the recent census figures and the 2010 General Election result.
Sinn Fein have called for an arrangement with the SDLP, I wondered why he thought that Alban Maginness and the SDLP leadership have refused to step aside?
Kelly argued that if you look at the three seats the SDLP currently hold they are appealing to a Nationalist, as well as, a Unionist vote. The Sinn Fein MLA made reference to a comment from his party colleague, Conor Murphy about the SDLP being “silent partners” in this pact and wonders himself “just how silent they were.” Kelly argues that the SDLP have no chance of winning North Belfast as he says that at the recent elections both Carál Ní Chuilín and himself have outpolled Alban Maginness.
Moreover, he rejects the assertion that a possible pact would be “sectarian” arguing that Nationalist politics is about equality and securing things like power-sharing government, rights for the LGBT community and protecting the most vulnerable. For Kelly these are policies that are massively different from Unionism and a pact should be about maximizing that progressive vote.
I put it to him that a realistically Sinn Fein cannot win this seat now?
Unsurprisingly, the Sinn Fein MLA believes that while it has become more difficult with the announcement of a pact, he still believes the seat is still winnable. Citing the surprise win of Naomi Long in 2010 and the response he is getting from canvassing, he believes that many Nationalists in North Belfast think now that the SDLP have got it wrong.
I finished up by asking why would it be such a bad thing if Nigel Dodds was returned on May 7th?
Kelly told me that Nigel Dodds and the DUP’s politics are “sectarian in the extreme” if you look at their attitudes to parades, opposition to Nationalist housing and the Holy Cross dispute and the inability to reach out to other sections for the community. In contrast, he believes that Sinn Fein look outward to all sections and helped force the DUP to look at the impact that welfare cuts would have on working class Protestant areas.
The Sinn Fein candidate, pledges to reach out to Unionism and highlights that Sinn Fein are the only party with an Outreach Department, were as he believes that “the DUP are a sectarian party and I don’t think they actually make any bones about it.” Kelly argues that Sinn Fein’s politics are to the left and the DUP are fundamentally conservatives in outlook.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs