Parties in North begin posturing for EU election

 

POLITICAL PARTIES in Northern Ireland are shaping up for a bruising campaign to win the three seats in the Northern Ireland European constituency now that all the main candidates have lodged their nomination papers for the June 4th poll.

This week the DUP, Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionist/Conservative, SDLP, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), Alliance Party and Green Party candidates all formally submitted their nomination papers.

The three sitting MEPs are contesting the election. The crucial difference this time is that Jim Allister is running on behalf of the TUV, which he leads. Four years ago he was elected as an MEP for the DUP, but resigned from the party when Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams agreed to share power.

Bairbre de Brún is seeking to hold her Sinn Féin seat, while Jim Nicholson is also hoping to be re-elected.

Mr Nicholson is standing as an agreed candidate for the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force (UCUNF), the first time a candidate is being endorsed by the two parties under an electoral pact agreed last February.

Diane Dodds, wife of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and a former MLA who lost her Assembly seat in the last election, hopes to win a seat for the DUP.

North Belfast Assembly member Alban Maginness is running for the SDLP. He believes he has a real chance of causing an upset by regaining the seat held by former leader John Hume from 1979 until the last European election. He says the presence of Mr Allister in the race could create conditions where he might benefit from a split unionist vote.

The Alliance Party is running Ian Parsley, a councillor in Bangor, Co Down, while the Greens are putting up Steven Agnew, a Stormont assistant to its only MLA Brian Wilson.

Ms Dodds said the focus of the DUP campaign would be to put pressure on Sinn Féin. “We need to keep our focus on defeating republicanism in this election and not allow it to become a unionist slanging match as some want.”

Her UUP and Conservative rival Mr Nicholson said he was offering “a genuine and credible alternative to the insular, narrow-minded future being shaped for them by the DUP-Sinn Féin ‘Themselves Alone’ coalition”.

TUV candidate Mr Allister handed in his nomination papers yesterday accompanied by party officers including William Ross, a former UUP MP.

“In this election I will be campaigning on two main issues – my record in Europe and offering people an opportunity to register their opposition to terrorists in government.”

Ms de Brún said this election would witness competing traditional political philosophies and she stressed the importance of voters to register. “Tens of thousands of eligible voters across the North are still not registered to vote, and I would encourage everyone to ensure that they are registered to vote by midnight on May 19th – the final registration date for the EU election.”

Mr Maginness said the North needed to be at the heart of Europe again. “For five years the people of Northern Ireland have lost out in Europe without the SDLP . . . It is time for us all to win again.”

Campaigners for Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, currently on remand in connection with the deaths of two British soldiers in Antrim in March, said he was considering standing.

Nominations close on Thursday.