Two of the three main unionist candidates in tomorrow’s European election have accused Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson of hypocrisy after the former bomber urged them to reject an endorsement by paramilitaries.
On Monday, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) – an umbrella group for illegal loyalist paramilitaries – urged voters to back all of the unionist candidates and to not even transfer to non-unionists such as Alliance or the Greens.
The statement said that “a vote or even a lower preference vote for any non-unionist will be counted as a vote against the Union by our collective enemies”.
Within hours of that statement, it had been rejected by Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, who said that his party did not want “the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity”.
Yesterday morning Ms Anderson called on all the unionist candidates to “immediately reject” the LCC endorsement.
The Sinn Fein candidate said: “Loyalist paramilitaries are still actively involved in violence, intimidation, drug-dealing and murder.
“They have no right to tell anyone how they should exercise their democratic entitlements.”
UUP candidate Danny Kennedy said that Ms Anderson had displayed “an unbelievable lack of self-awareness” and her comments criticising the Ulster Unionist Party have no standing in reality.
“If Martina Anderson and Sinn Fein were in any way genuine they would be well aware that my party leader Robin Swann issued a clear and unequivocal statement regarding paramilitarism on Monday night,” he said. “This was well before Sinn Fein issued a badly researched press release on Tuesday.”
The former Stormont minister, who is fighting to retain Jim Nicholson’s seat, added: “It’s perverse that Martina Anderson feels that she is in any position to lecture the Ulster Unionist Party about democratic values.
“She is an unrepentant convicted bomber. As a border unionist I know only too well of the pain of the awful carnage caused by her former IRA so-called volunteers.
“We will not take lectures from Ms Anderson or her party on this issue.
“I have no problem distancing myself from paramilitary groups. It is Sinn Fein who are incapable of distancing themselves from the murderous deeds of the IRA.”
TUV leader Jim Allister has repeatedly clashed with Ms Anderson during this campaign over her past as an IRA bomber.
A TUV spokesman said: “Unrepentant convicted bomber Anderson is the last person who should be issuing statements calling for anyone to reject the unsolicited endorsement of paramilitaries.”
Mr Allister added: “TUV rejects her call as nauseatingly hypocritical ... TUV is unequivocal on paramilitaries.
“We believe there is no role for paramilitaries in Northern Ireland of any shade.”
In 2017, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson rejected the LCC’s endorsement in the general election.
However, yesterday the DUP declined to comment on the LCC statement.