Mid-Ulster by-election: campaign eerily quiet as IRA murder victim's son faces alleged killer in polls

 

Most assumed it would be a by-election as bitter as any seen in Northern Ireland, not least because one candidate has been accused of involvement in the murder of the father of another.

Unionist Nigel Lutton's father, a former police reservist, was shot dead by IRA gunmen. Republican Francie Molloy was accused in parliament of helping set him up, an allegation he strongly denies.

Now they face each other in the polls. The scene seemed set for a heated fight to succeed Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness as Westminster MP for Mid-Ulster.

The constituency has traditionally been so fiercely contested that voting turnout has on occasion exceeded 90 per cent.

But this time the campaign has been eerily and almost unnaturally quiet as polling day, Thursday, approaches. There has not been a single head-on confrontation, either personal or political, between the unionist and the republican.

Nigel Lutton has mentioned his father's murder, which took place when he was aged just eight, but he is not highlighting it in his campaign.

In one of his few references to the murder he confined himself to saying: “It made me want to ensure no one ever had to go through what my family went through again. I have always said that hatred can destroy a victim. I don't seek revenge.”

Francie Molloy for his part continues to deny playing any part in the incident, and has faced no serious challenges about it. “It has not been raised at all,” he told The Independent. “I have heard nothing about it, not on any doorstep.”

On a live webchat organised by a unionist paper, he pointed out, “We had one question asked and that was all, and Nigel Lutton hasn't raised it at all.”

Echoes of past republican violence are also seen in the fact that the Sinn Fein election agent is Ian Milne, who frankly acknowledges his highly active IRA past. He once featured on police posters as one of the “three most wanted” republicans.

On the surface at least there are no other obvious signs of voter interest in the issue of the Lutton killing. In the main street of Cookstown, one of Mid-Ulster's largest towns, people asked about the question looked blank, shook their heads or gave suitably wintry smiles.

Of course, in Northern Ireland a lot often goes unsaid, because many steadfastly refuse to voice opinions on such deep and difficult issues. Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate who is from this part of the world, summed this up in the phrase “Whatever you say, say nothing.”

This is echoed by Eric Bullick, candidate of the moderate Alliance party, who said the Lutton killing had never been raised with him: “Certain people are happy to talk about certain issues,” he said. “Other issues that they feel strongly about, that they know might appear as sectarian attitudes, they don't even come out and tell you that. They're subtle in what they say.”

The same approach was described by local unionist councillor Trevor Wilson, who said that during canvassing the issue of the murder “hasn't come up, it really hasn't.” He added: “Nigel doesn't play on that at all, it's definitely not part of his election, though I'm sure that privately people are talking about it.”

In any case, no one believes the outcome is in doubt, for over the years Martin McGuinness has built up what a unionist campaigner conceded was “an enormous vote,” with 52 per cent of the vote in 2010. He is stepping down from Westminster to concentrate on his post as Deputy First Minister.

In the unionist camp the strategy of saying nothing, or next to nothing, has been taken to political extremes since the Lutton campaign managers have denied the media access to their candidate, who is very much a newcomer to politics.

Requests for interviews from the Belfast papers have been rejected, while he has pulled out of a local BBC programme which was to be the only debate of the contest. This has led to media descriptions of the unionist as “the Orange Pimpernel” and “the new silent man of politics.”

As a result the campaign is, in Mr Molloy's words, “very flat, no real activity in it at all” while a local moderate nationalist described it as “very, very quiet, very lacklustre, no real enthusiasm around, no real antagonism.”

The undercurrents of history still run deep in Mid-Ulster, and there are still very definitely two rival communities, but this campaign suggests that some of the ferocity has gone out of the ancient quarrel.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
liveblogFollow the latest from the Bernabeu as Real Madrid play Bayern Munich
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
news
News
peopleThis time as he’s awarded the Freedom of Stirling and handed an honorary degree
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents