Election Diary: Sinn Fein silent on Gildernew ‘bigot’ claim

Michelle Gildernew is hoping to unseat Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone
Michelle Gildernew is hoping to unseat Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Sinn Fein has declined to explain or retract Michelle Gildernew’s endorsement of a claim that Tom Elliott has had a “reign of bigotry”.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate – along with two other Sinn Fein Twitter accounts – ‘liked’ a tweet which said: “Make sure everyone gets out and votes Michelle on June 8. Vote sinn fein. End elliot’s reign of bigotry [sic].”

The News Letter asked Sinn Fein whether it stood over that characterisation of the unionist candidate’s time as MP. The party did not respond.

It is less than two years since another Fermanagh Sinn Fein representative, the then MLA Phil Flanagan, admitted that he had seriously libelled Mr Elliott on Twitter by wrongly claiming that the former Ulster Unionist leader had shot people, something which Mr Flanagan admitted was “wholly without foundation” and “untrue”.

A UUP spokesman said they were “very disappointed but not surprised” at Mrs Gildernew’s actions.

The spokesman added: “It’s rich coming from the representative of a party who will not condemn the widespread murder of their neighbours.”

The bookies – and sources across unionism and nationalism – make Mrs Gildernew the strong favourite to unseat Mr Elliott, who has a majority of just over 500 votes.

PM’s translator in China now an NI Tory

A former diplomat who acted as an interpreter for David Cameron when the then prime minister visited China in 2013 is standing for the Tories in East Antrim.

Mark Logan, who said that he had spent well over 10,000 hours becoming fluent in Mandarin, was chief spokesman at the British Consulate in Shanghai.

That role involved work on UK-China business deals, and Mr Logan said that as we move towards Brexit he wanted to see Northern Ireland place more emphasis on business links with the Asian superpower.

Mr Logan said he interpreted for Mr Cameron during a meeting with Hanhan, a microblogger who has 44 million followers. He said that Mr Cameron had joked that he only had around one million followers.

The Co Antrim man – who is now working on a master’s degree at Oxford – said that he had also been heavily involved in visits to China by Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and George Osborne and the then mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Mr Logan stood for the Tories in neighbouring South Antrim in March’s Assembly election, polling 194 votes.

But although the Tories now poll poorly in Northern Ireland, Mr Logan is pointing to how a past Tory MP for the area in Victorian times – James Chaine who is commemorated by Chaine Memorial tower in Larne – developed infrastructure in the area, including Larne Port.

Leaders’ debate goes ahead on UTV

Tonight’s UTV leaders’ debate will go ahead despite the horrific events in London on Saturday night.

The debate – which had been due to be held almost a fortnight ago but was postponed after the terrorist attack in Manchester – will be recorded this afternoon and broadcast at 9pm.

UTV confirmed yesterday that the event will go ahead.

There is a strong feeling among some of the parties that it would be wrong to allow such terrorist attacks to halt the normal democratic process.

Tonight’s debate features Michelle O’Neill, Nigel Dodds, Robin Swann, Colum Eastwood and Naomi Long.

Tomorrow night will see the BBC’s leaders’ debate broadcast, effectively the final major act of the campaign.