North Belfast: will John Finucane sort out Nigel Dodds?

As candidates strap on their election battle gear, I wonder how Boris Johnson is feeling. Is he confident that his energy and willingness to engage in banter will be enough for people to forget that he is an unscrupulous opportunist and a mortal threat to the NHS? Will Jeremy Corbyn feel relieved to be on the road again, putting a distance between himself and the various Labour MPs who detest him because he reminds them what radical socialism looks like and who’d rather die in a ditch than support the bold changes he has on offer?

But let’s be honest: the election in England is an afterthought. So too is the election in Scotland and Wales. What we’re really concerned with is here.

Maybe in starting out, all commentators could form an electoral pact and agree never to use the phrase “sectarian headcount”.  It’s old, it’s feeble and it’s misleading.  What kind of fool would not use an indicator which tells him or her what people might vote for him/her and what people would never vote for him/her?  The fact is, Protestants overwhelmingly vote unionist, Catholics overwhelmingly vote nationalist/republican. It’s  a fact. Get over it.

Gerry Kelly was denounced when he indicated that the number of Catholics in North Belfast were capable of giving victory to him in an election. Those who denounced him did so because it was a handy weapon to thump him with.

But now there’s been a change. Gerry Kelly, as a former hunger-striker and escape-artist par excellence, had a devoted electoral following. However as a former member of the IRA he also had nationalists who shied away from voting for him under any circumstances. In his place Sinn Féin have now inserted John Finucane. His backstory of a father gunned down at the family dinner-table by loyalist killers in cahoots with state forces is truly moving. And the fact that after all this time, the Finucane family have still been denied the truth about their father’s killing adds to the sympathy for the Sinn Féin candidate. Plus, as anyone who attended the Lord Mayor’s Inaugural Dinner last week can tell you, he is at the heart of republicanism’s shift from being shut out, their words dubbed and their electoral efforts scorned, to being strong and confident in what were once the citadels of unionism that once boasted of not having a Catholic about the place.

Steve Aitken, the new UUP leader, has boldly declared that his party will stand in all eighteen seats, regardless of any impact it may have on DUP prospects, and that includes North Belfast where Finucane is running.  But do you really think the word won’t go down the line that, regardless of party affiliation, the Shinner must be kept out and the DUP is your only hope?  Unionists know their leader in Westminster is in danger of decapitation and it will be all hands on deck.

As John Finucane tightens his electoral body-armour, he would do well to accept that unionism will do him very few favours. He’s got to win by his own and his party’s appeal. And he can do exactly that, if all those disgusted by his father’s killing and ambitious for a better tomorrow get off their over-weight asses on 12 December and VOTE.

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