The Westminster contest in North Belfast just got serious.
Sinn Fein have announced their intention to run Belfast-based solicitor John Finucane in the constituency at next month’s Westminster election.
After nationalists succeeded in taking a majority of seats in the constituency at the Assembly election in March, Sinn Fein are clearly seeking to capitalise on the resurgent nationalist vote, and the candidacy of John Finucane will make this into a straight Dodds vs Finucane contest.
The candidacy of John Finucane marks a new departure for Sinn Fein.
The Finucane name carries significance within northern nationalism- and across Ireland and abroad- on account of his family’s quest for justice following the brutal assassination of John’s father, Pat Finucane.
But John Finucane’s own personal and professional reputation, as a solicitor and former Antrim county footballer, marks a significant departure for Sinn Fein, a party that has traditionally struggled to attract candidates from professional backgrounds.
In the North Belfast constituency in particular, Sinn Fein has to date failed to put forward a candidate capable of galvanising support from across nationalism from the lower Antrim Road to the more affluent upper Antrim Road and Glengormley areas in a way that could credibly challenge a single unionist candidate in the form of Nigel Dodds.
There is no question but that Finucane will be able to do that.
In March’s election, the combined SF/SDLP vote represented some 42.5% as compared to 42.8% for the combined votes of the DUP/UUP/PUP.
However, Sinn Fein would be confident that the vast majority of votes for the People Before Profit candidate, representing some 3.8%, would likely favour Finucane over Dodds, leaving the Sinn Fein candidate well placed to challenge Dodds for the seat.
For the first time ever, there is a prospect of a nationalist MP being returned for North Belfast.