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Sinn Féin defends leaflet amid accusations of 'blatant sectarianism'

A leaflet for Gerry Kelly contains census figures showing more Catholics than Protestants in North Belfast.

SINN FÉIN HAS defended a leaflet it is distributing in Northern Ireland which contains the religious breakdown of a constituency for the Westminster elections.

A leaflet, published by the party’s MLA Gerry Kelly, contains figures from the 2011 census showing that there are now more Catholics than Protestants in North Belfast and urges people to ‘Make the Change, Make History’.

Kelly is attempting to unseat sitting DUP MP Nigel Dodds in the elections next Thursday. Dodds narrowly held onto the traditionally unionist seat in the 2010 UK general election.

The leaflet says there is now “a majority of 1,305 nationalists” in the constituency, citing the 2011 figures, and urges voters to elect Kelly to “defend all citizens against austerity, sectarianism and the failed politics of the past”.

Kelly insisted that the leaflet was presenting official census figures and offered “compelling official evidence of significant demographic change”. He said such figures are used to predict future political and electoral trends.

sf leaflet `1

But Labour TD Robert Dowds, who is Protestant, accused Sinn Féin and Kelly of “blatant sectarianism” and said the “mask has dropped” with this latest election literature.

“This is blatant sectarianism on the part of Sinn Féin, and they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. Sinn Féin claim to be republicans but there is absolutely nothing republican about exploiting divisions between people of different religions for electoral gain, yet this is clearly what they are trying to do,” Dowds said.

Rather than trying to reach out to the Protestant community, as they claim to do, they are deliberately trying to increase tensions between both communities and to exploit such tensions in pursuit of votes.

SF Leaflet

Dublin-based Fine Gael councillor Neale Richmond said the leaflet had no place in a modern democracy and accused Sinn Féin of trying to equate religious denomination with political preference.

“This leaflet flies in the face of their supposed claim to represent Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. It makes a mockery of our complex history as an island and is a slur against the intelligence of great patriots such as Wolfe Tone, Parnell and Blythe,” he said.

However, in response to a query from TheJournal.ie, Kelly said in a statement that he rejected accusations of sectarianism. He insisted the graphic was a direct lift from official government figures.

“[It] was a faithful representation of the statistics as compiled by NISRA [Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency] and compelling official evidence of significant demographic change. These official statistics are used widely by individuals and organisations – academic, media and political – to predict future political and electoral trends.

I reject absolutely sectarianism, racism and homophobia and will continue to represent all constituents without fear or favour.

Kelly also attacked the Labour party for focusing on the issue, saying its approach to Northern Irish politics is inconsistent.

“Labour’s new found interest in the northern election is welcome given the fact that they have ignored the attacks on the LGBT community by a DUP health minster stating child abuse was more prevalent in gay relationships,” he said.

“If there was any level of consistency from Labour in their apparent concerns for northern politics more people might take their comments at face value.”

Read: NI Health Minister draws links between gay relationships and child abuse

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Hugh O'Connell

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