Does Pat Cullen’s candidacy hint that Sinn Féin is going to end its abstentionism? - Tom Kelly

Sinn Féin has pulled off a coup by persuading the former Royal College of Nursing boss to fight the cauldron seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

Pat Cullen is looking to become an MP
Pat Cullen has left the RCN to seek election as a Sinn Féin MP in the July 4 general election (Lucy North/PA)

What a quirky start to the election. As usual Rishi Sunak is about as surefooted as a two-legged goat. By announcing the re-introduction of national service, he might as well have declared that Boris Johnson was taking vows of obedience, chastity and poverty.

No doubt we can expect more policy on the hoof from the Tories as their desperation grows. The debacle over who is or who is not standing for Labour is an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction. As a party historically famed for indiscipline, they should avoid the prize slipping from their grasp.

Over here it’s the same old farcical gobbledygook.

A Stormont version of Lanigan’s Ball for the Ulster Unionists with health minister Robin Swann stepping out after voting against the health budget only for Mike Nesbitt to step in after doing exactly the same thing. It’s like watching Duffy’s Circus without the benefit of a ringmaster.

Let’s spell it out for the slow learners - in realpolitik, if you are part of a coalition government and vote against the most important aspect of an government’s function - i.e the budget - you resign from said government.

Being guided by well meaning intentions is fine but if your principles are askew, then it’s better to blow on a dandelion puff for political guidance.

The decision of Naomi Long, the justice minister, to run as a parliamentary candidate only months into office is somewhat disappointing. The belief that she can give both posts equal attention over the six weeks of an intensive electoral contest is, at best, questionable.

As usual there were the perennial calls for electoral pacts from the usual suspects. To this writer, pacts are simply wrong.

The electorate can make their own minds up without some political apparatchik doing it for them.

Political parties offering or seeking pacts, or standing aside from certain constituencies are not doing it for a healthier democratic process or outcome.

These are pragmatic, calculating decisions which are strategic, selfish and opportunistic. In the context of the north they amount to little more than thinly disguised sectarianism.

Even the slightest prospect of a non-unionist being elected sends political unionism into tail spin like whirling dervishes. Both Jim Allister and his TUV acolytes will soon discover that sabre rattling and spoiling are their sole purpose.

Sinn Féin’s non-contention of four seats is not an act of altruism; it means they can focus resources and manpower into other areas which are more productive.

What is slightly perplexing is why Pat Cullen, who has been a trade union lobbyist for decades, advocating legislative change via parliament, would now seek to be part of a historically nonsensical abstentionist policy towards that parliament

Claire Hanna of the SDLP represents the embodiment of a progressive politician. She is unequalled amongst the other NI MPs. Whilst it’s noble and laudable that the SDLP and Alliance are running in all 18 constituencies, in truth their hearts, minds and feet will only be out in force where they are strongest.

And for the record, no matter what Sinn Féin, SDLP or the Alliance say in their respective literature, a vote for any of them is not a vote to get the Tories out - that’s now down to the Labour Party.

Voting SDLP, Alliance or Sinn Féin may at least offer the prospect of fewer DUP MPs available to bolster right-wing Tories or polish their boots.

Sinn Féin has pulled off a coup by getting someone as high-profile as the former Royal College of Nursing boss, Pat Cullen, to replace the affable and engaging Michelle Gildernew as a candidate in the cauldron seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

What is slightly perplexing is why someone who has been a trade union lobbyist for decades, advocating legislative change via parliament, would now seek to be part of a historically nonsensical abstentionist policy towards that parliament.

Maybe having secured the talents of someone of Cullen’s calibre points towards another republican shibboleth about to be shafted.

The key battlegrounds of North Down, South Antrim, Foyle, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, East Belfast and the two outliers of South Down and Upper Bann will be fascinating. I may even be tempted to have a flutter...