A Sinn Fein councillor has withdrawn an intended slur towards a socialist candidate – but not before it was endorsed by more senior Sinn Fein figures.
Councillor Ciaran Beattie, who is the election for Paul Maskey, the overwhelming favourite to retain his West Belfast seat, described People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll as “Gerry the Brit”.
The comment, made in a Facebook post about the socialist MLA, was linked to Mr Carroll’s intention to take his seat at Westminster if he was to be elected, something which Sinn Fein MPs do not do because they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
The post was ‘liked’ by Dublin Sinn Fein TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, former Belfast Lord Mayor Tierna Cunningham and fellow Belfast Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee.
The post was also shared by former senior IRA figure and Maze escapee Dermot Finucane.
However, after Mr Carroll criticised the comments and the News Letter asked Sinn Fein whether Mr Maskey endorsed his election agent’s comments, he withdrew them.
In a statement issued through the Sinn Fein press office, Councillor Beattie said: “I did made a comment on Facebook while sharing a post, and on reflection decided to take it down as I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
He accused Mr Carroll of “engaging in distraction politics” and added: “Gerry Carroll has made it clear that he is prepared to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Queen.
“I believe Mr Carroll is engaged in an effort to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters of West Belfast. In this he will fail.”
Mr Carroll, who stunned Sinn Fein by getting elected last year as an MLA in the republican heartland previously represented by Gerry Adams, accused Sinn Fein of “pathetic slander” towards him.
He said: We have received a number of messages from people in West Belfast, including some Sinn Féin supporters, who were disgusted by Mr Beattie’s comments.
“This is gutter politics at its worst, and I would call on Paul Maskey to put it on record whether he approves of his election agent’s comments.
“It is disrespectful to the people of West Belfast, and to the thousands of people who vote for People Before Profit. Everyone should expect a robust debate during an election. But labelling your opponents ‘Brits’ because you are in competition with them is wrong, and should be stopped”.
Mr Carroll, whose party lost support in March’s Assembly election, partly because it called for a Leave vote in the EU referendum, added that by taking their seats at Westminster his party would be “in the tradition of Bernadette Devlin, who took her seat in order to expose the establishment”.