SDLP MAN ATTACKS 'TIRED OLD PARTY'
* Paisley launches scary campaign
A former member of the SDLP has launched a stinging attack on
his own party which he claims lacks talent and is "bereft of
Describing it as a "tired old party", a former prospective
candidate for the election said the new SDLP was "a pale
shadow" of the party it once was.
While next month's election to the Belfast Assembly threatens
to become dominated by the crisis within unionism, the
outburst by Pat Healy from County Down has served to focus
attention on the battle for nationalist vote.
Healy said he was disillusioned by the "yuppiedom" which
permeates SDLP headquarters.
"It is abundantly clear that the integrity once associated
with the party has now disappeared," he said. "The yuppiedom
that now permeates the corridors of Ormeau Road is a far cry
from the traditional socialist principles that were once the
hallmarks of the SDLP.
There was, Mr Healy said, some recognition of the problem
within the party.
"This is evidenced by recent press and broadcast releases
designed to appeal to those with a historic fondness for the
party. It is an attempt to paper over the cracks, to hoodwink
the electorate with oodles of sentimentality.
"It won't work and in the words of party leader Mark Durkan
the proof will be in forthcoming assembly election results."
However, Ian Paisley's DUP has drawn the early headlines in
the election campaign.
The aged Reverend launched his party's election campaign
yesterday at the Ramada Hotel in south Belfast with his
trademark fire-and-brimstone appeal to the electorate.
He described the election date as "the day when the false and
lying stewards will be called upon to give account of their
He gloried in the confirmation that the election would be
allowed to proceed, and heaped abuse on British Prime Minister
Tony Blair and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.
"The hand of history evidently has removed itself from the
shoulder of Prime Minister Blair to his throat and choking
back his own deceit and that of Trimble, both have been forced
to bow to the mysterious sovereignty of divine providence."
Mr Paisley continued: "The Prime Minister is loud in the
praise of those who destroy lives but he is mute in the praise
of those who gave their lives to defend life.
"Shame! Undying shame is upon him and his ilk.
"In the strange exposure at Hillsborough, the hidden things of
darkness from the nether basement of 10 Downing Street have
come to light. There must be no more concealment."
On Wednesday, Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness
strongly criticised the DUP, claiming they were "trying to
fool the electorate about their ability to renegotiate the
Good Friday Agreement after this election.
"That is not going to happen and I think there are people in
the party who know that," he said.
Despite last week's collapse of a deal to rescue the
Agreement, Mr McGuinness said that Sinn Fein was "hitting the
ground running" during the election and was hopeful further
political progress could be made.
The Mid-Ulster MP insisted the re-establishment of the
political institutions should remain a "huge priority".
Any review of the Good Friday Agreement in December after the
elections should not be used as a substitute for the assembly
and other institutions, he warned.
The Sinn Fein MP added: "I believe real progress was made in
the discussions with the Ulster Unionist Party and the two
governments. That progress must be built upon."
DUP 'RAN AWAY'
UUP vice-president Sir Reg Empey attacked the DUP promise to
renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement as "breathtaking
"They appear to see no contradiction in their claim to oppose
the Agreement and all its works and then tell the voters of
all they achieved while working the Belfast Agreement.
"In 1997, the DUP ran away from the Mitchell talks and left
other unionists alone to represent the pro-Union people.
"Then they criticise those of us who stayed to fight, attack
the institutions that we created and then proceed to work the
"What credibility do they now have when they say they want a
new deal? They had the opportunity to negotiate and failed to
"Now, Ian Paisley says Sinn Fein must disband and reform
before he will talk to them. Does anybody believe that is
going to happen?
"He then says he will talk to the Prime Minister. Last week,
he called Mr Blair a liar. So who are the DUP going to talk to
and what proposals are they going to put on the table?
"Whatever the shortcomings of the present, the fact is that
decommissioning has occurred but, unfortunately, not in a
manner to maximise public confidence."
But the DUP has dismissed efforts be their Ulster Unionist rivals
to unite around a manifesto. Paisleyite Iris Robinson insisted
the Ulster Unionists are in "total disarray" after a number
the party's candidates backed out of the battle.
The latest, former Assembly member Tom Hamilton, withdrew from
the race for a seat in Strangford due to employment
Mrs Robinson said she was not surprised. "Like John Taylor,
Mr Hamilton read the writing on the wall and jumped before the
electorate pushed," the Strangford MP claimed.
Today, a hyperactive DUP campaign presented a slide show
depicting the "horror" of Sinn Fein Ministers returning to
"Over the next five years we could have the nightmare of Gerry
Adams or Martin McGuinness starring as Deputy First Minister,"
said DUP MP Gregory Campbell.
"Gerry Kelly is in line for a starring role in the part of the
Policing and Justice Minister."
Former Sinn Fein health minister Bairbre de Brun today said
she was bemused by the scare tactics, but said her party was
prepared to work with whoever unionist voters elected.
"We respect the electorate. We respect the right for them to
vote for whoever they want to vote for.
"We are not into social engineering. There are other people
who believe that you can't even have an election unless you
can predict the outcome.
"That is not our way. We will work with whoever the unionist
people put forward as their chosen elected representative."
* A prominent member of the UDA-linked Ulster Political
Research Group has announced his candidacy in north Belfast
for the Assembly elections. Frank McCoubrey is running as an
independent loyalist candidate.
The UDA's political party, the UDP, was disbanded last year
following a bloody internal dispute. The UPRG now represents
the UDA in the political arena, but McCoubrey said he was not
running as a member of the UPRG, which was was not a political