A chara, – Quoting the State Papers 1983 (Home News, December 27th) you report Garret FitzGerald telling Mrs Thatcher what the SDLP told him. Namely, that in one polling booth in the North the SDLP agent, a woman, had "turned away 240 people who were attempting personation – out of a total of about 900 who were supposed to vote at the booth. She had been threatened by Sinn Féin and, finally, driven away from the booth in a Saracen armoured car."
Lest this myth go down as historical fact, let me state that the alleged incident never took place. I was Sinn Féin’s national director of publicity at the time. No such complaint was made by the SDLP or appeared in the media or was reported to the electoral office. In fact, the only political party to be “found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by an election court” was Joe Hendron MP of the SDLP and his election agent, as late as February 1993. And the only person to be driven away in an (RUC) armoured car was a member of Sinn Féin from Howard Primary School polling station in Dungannon on June 9th, 1983, when it came under attack from unionist supporters.
Long before Sinn Féin entered electoral politics in the North the unofficial election slogan of unionist and nationalist politicians was “Vote early and vote often”. Personation, which did happen, was a waste of energy as the efforts of one side only cancelled out the efforts of the other.
The truth is that the two governments’ refusal to recognise the republican electoral mandate prolonged the deadlock.
Today, in the North, under the tightest election regulations in Europe, Sinn Féin in the last Assembly elections won 29 seats to the SDLP’s 14 – and there wasn’t an armoured car, real or imagined, in sight. – Yours, etc,