The European Elections: 'Judas' gibe enlivens N Ireland campaign

Click to follow
In European elections as in everything else, Northern Ireland is different. This campaign has been fought by different parties, with a different voting system, on different issues.

The three MEPs will be elected on the basis of proportional representation. The actual result is scarcely in doubt: it will be a big upset if the three are not, as before, the Rev Ian Paisley, the SDLP leader John Hume and the Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson.

In effect there have been two campaigns, one on the Unionist side and one on the nationalist. A low-key and generally lacklustre campaign has been enlivened only by Mr Paisley's attack on James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist party leader, as a 'Judas Iscariot'.

Mr Paisley's electioneering technique is not normally characterised by restraint, but he and Mr Molyneaux have been partners in a pact for almost a decade, during which time the two men developed a close working relationship. Until now Mr Molyneaux has been one of the few to escape the Paisley invective.

Mr Molyneaux reacted to the onslaught with a more in sorrow than in anger approach, leaving it to a colleague to reply that Mr Paisley was 'a downright embarrassment to the Unionist case through antics which are nowadays more thud and blunder than blood and thunder'.

Mr Paisley always tops the poll in European elections, but the government will be watching anxiously for signs of slippage which would indicate an erosion of the Unionist extremes. The theory goes that this would brighten the prospects for the inter-party talks which the authorities hope to revive after the election.

Also due after the contest is Sinn Fein's response to the Downing Street Declaration, a reaction which will help clarify how much life is left in the Irish process. The government will, as always, be hoping for a dip in the Sinn Fein vote.

The republicans never do well in European elections, for many nationalists are pro-European and the republicans are Euro-sceptic, and they suffer from John Hume's large personal vote.

Last week Mr Hume mingled with the congregation outside St Agnes's Catholic church in Andersonstown, west Belfast.

Parents brought up their excited girls dressed in white dresses after making their first Communion, to have their photographs taken with him. A man approached and shook his hand: 'I'm a republican,' he said, 'but you're the best of them. A woman came up: 'I'd like to shake your hand,' she said. 'You're a good man. All the best.' There were no dissenting voices; all was goodwill.

A little later he was greeted by a man who had just missed death. 'The loyalists nearly got me,' said the man, a taxi-driver. 'I was shot in the back of the head last year, but I'm okay. It was a loyalist retaliation after a Provo bombing.' The SDLP leader shook his head in wonderment, and said he hoped they would get peace soon.

A mile or two away, in back streets off the Falls Road, Tom Hartley, a Sinn Fein candidate, made his canvassing rounds. A retinue of party workers ran out ahead and to the sides, keeping an eye out for voters who would like a word, and for suspicious cars which might contain loyalist attackers.

One old woman would definitely like a word. 'Unless you do something in the Clonard area we're not going to give you any more votes,' she lectured Mr Hartley sternly.

Young boys drinking beer were causing noise and damage, she complained: 'Is there nothing can be done? We've nobody to protect us at all.' He promised to look into it.