Will Brexit or religion dominate the vote in Belfast?

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

If the Lord Mayor of Belfast urinates in the street, does it matter?

That’s the question dominating political debate on the radio phone-in show here today.

It’s an issue because the Lord Mayor is also the Sinn Fein candidate for one of the most hotly contested parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland. His name is John Finucane and he has apologised for the incident in May, for which he was given a police caution for indecent behaviour.

“I am of course very embarrassed” said Mr Finucane “and I apologise unreservedly.”

Nigel Dodds, of the DUP, is the centre of an attempt to be unseated. Credit: ITV News

Finucane is hoping to oust Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster Leader, as the MP for North Belfast. Dodds won by 2000 votes at the last election. And 2000 votes is also how many the nationalist SDLP won last time, but this time they are not running a candidate in North Belfast. That’s how tight this race is.

Mr Dodds is in a difficult spot. The DUP supported Brexit, but they are vehemently opposed to Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit deal. Maybe it’s not so supposing then that Mr Dodds says Brexit is not the biggest issue coming up on the doorstep, that health and education are bigger concerns for people.

Yet everyone else says this election IS about Brexit.

The leader of the SDLP, Colum Eastwood, defends their decision to stand aside in North Belfast on the grounds that it would be better not to split the nationalist, anti-Brexit vote and let Dodds win.

And even though Sinn Fein do not take their seats in Parliament he says “We would prefer to have John Finucane sitting in his house, than Nigel Dodds sitting in the House of Commons.”

Campaign posters in Northern Ireland amid grey skies and uncertainty. Credit: ITV News

The one other party that IS standing in North Belfast is the Alliance Party.

They say they are neither Nationalist nor Unionist but they are anti-Brexit.

Their candidate Nuala McAllister says she wants to give anti Brexit voters the chance to elect someone who would actually take their seat. In truth her chances are limited in North Belfast and Alliance’s chances of winning a seat are better in East Belfast.

The Ulster Unionist Party have also stood aside in North Belfast, amidst hotly denied rumours that they were threatened by loyalist paramilitaries.

Alliance Party candidate Nuala McAllister believes she represents a different choice. Credit: ITV News

Their new leader Steve McCain says the Union comes first even if that means staying in the EU.

So does it matter that the Lord Mayor relieved himself in the street? Unsurprisingly Unionists think it does and that John Finucane should step down as Mayor.

Republicans think it does not, he was caught short, it happens, they say. Which view has the most support in North Belfast on 12th December will determine one of the most closely fought electoral battles in Northern Ireland.