Mr McDowell, who has been a trenchant critic of Sinn Féin’s links with the IRA, was campaigning last night for the deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, in his bid to capture the south Belfast seat. However, his intervention in the campaign was criticised by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and the party’s MEP in Dublin Mary Lou McDonald while they were canvassing for votes in Derry.
Mr Adams, who also attacked a recent visit by Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern to SDLP MP Eddie McGrady in South Down, said: “It’s a pity he (Mr
McDowell) did not come up when Short Strand was under siege, when Ardoyne was under siege and when Garvaghy Road was under siege.
“It is a pity that he did not take time to come up here to Derry to attend the Bloody Sunday Tribunal.
“His visit proves what we have been saying all along about Irish Government attacks on us: it is all about elections. I would like to think, now that he has electioneered, he will accept the outcome of this election and he will accept the mandate given to our party.”
The justice minister infuriated Sinn Féin leaders after the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast and the murder of 33-year-old father-of-two Robert
McCartney when he named senior leadership figures as being members of the IRA’s Army Council.
Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said, while it was a matter for the minister where he went and for the SDLP who had invited him, she did not believe it was appropriate for Irish Government ministers to tie themselves into a campaign north of the Border.
“It puts them in a very partisan position when they have a very key role in the peace process,” she said. “They are custodians of the Agreement and they have to keep themselves in a position where they can actually fulfil that role.”
A spokesperson for the minister said that he had gone to Belfast to support Dr McDonnell in a personal capacity.
“Alasdair is an old friend from college days,” she said.
The SDLP and Sinn Féin are currently engaged in a bitter battle for John Hume’s seat in Foyle.
Sinn Féin general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin believes he can capture the seat from SDLP leader Mark Durkan. However journalist and civil rights campaigner Eamonn
McCann declared yesterday he was also running, further complicating the race.
The Socialist Environmental Alliance candidate secured 2,257 votes in the constituency in the November 2003 Assembly elections.
Mr Durkan told Derry’s Chamber of Commerce that Sinn Féin and the DUP had failed to live up to election promises in recent negotiations.
In his latest attack, the Foyle Assembly member said: “Between them, Sinn Féin and the DUP and the Ulster Unionists before them promised so much but in the end they delivered so little. I believe people have seen enough of the failed deals and flawed deals that have blocked progress for far too long and can see right through those responsible for them.”
Democratic Unionist leader Rev Ian Paisley yesterday handed in nomination papers for his North Antrim constituency where he has served as MP since 1970.
Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside yesterday formally launched his re-election bid in South Antrim in the face of a DUP challenge from former MP, the Reverend William McCrea.