The prospect of an agreed cross-community candidate to contest the West Tyrone by-election has been played down by both the DUP and SDLP – and described by one IRA victim as “toxic”.
Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff resigned as the constituency’s MP on Monday following controversy over an online video.
The Twitter footage showed Mr McElduff balancing a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmills massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in 1976.
Following the resignation announcement, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the selection of an agreed “non-partisan” candidate to oppose Sinn Fein would “send a strong message that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated”.
Speaking yesterday, Alan McBride said any attempt to have a single candidate representing a broad spectrum of victims would be bad for both the victims sector and society in general.
“I do think this is potentially toxic, in terms of who is going to represent victims and survivors,” said Mr McBride, whose wife died in the Shankill bomb.
“I don’t know if there is a candidate out there who would bring in that cross-community support. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if this thing ever got off the ground, and we did appoint a unity victims candidate, then there would be all sorts of debates and discussions about ‘whose victim are they?’ I think that would be very bad for the victims’ community, and I think also for society.”
Calling for the main parties to give “voice to victims,” Mr Swann said: “It is right that the people of West Tyrone are now given the opportunity to elect a MP who will take their seat in the House of Commons and be a voice for everyone.
“Given the hurt that has been caused to victims by Mr McElduff’s actions I think it is important that any by-election provides them with a voice. I am therefore calling for a non-partisan candidate who will be a voice for victims to contest this seat against Sinn Fein.”
However Tom Buchanan, the DUP candidate who lost out to Mr McElduff in the 2017 general election, has urged caution and said it is important that “nothing is done which could allow the actions of Barry McElduff and Sinn Fein’s inadequate response to be overshadowed”.
Mr Buchanan said the “dynamics of the West Tyrone constituency” must be borne in mind,” and added: “At the last Westminster election, SF received 51% of the votes cast. The DUP received 27% and the UUP 5%. The by-election will certainly be an opportunity to scrutinise the effectiveness of an absentee MP. Barry McElduff delivered nothing for West Tyrone other than embarrassment.”
A spokeswoman for the SDLP also played down the prospect of an agreed candidate, saying the party “has not engaged or been asked to engage in any discussion” with other parties.
She said: “The SDLP is reflecting on all comments in relation to an agreed candidate but believes the prospect of reaching that agreement with all parties is challenging. We are equally mindful that over the last week victims have pleaded that politicians must stop using their hurt for political purposes.”
A Sinn Fein spokesperson confirmed the party will definitely be contesting the by-election.
“There was huge support for Sinn Fein’s platform in last year’s Westminster election of equality, rights and Irish unity,” they said.