SDLP election candidate John Coyle reduced to tears over online insults
A Northern Ireland election candidate who was reduced to tears after being subjected to a series of vile insults by online trolls has spoken of his pain.
John Coyle, who is standing for the SDLP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, likened the abuse to schoolyard bullying.
The 29-year-old prospective MP was singled out for vicious criticism on Twitter after a poor performance during a live BBC TV debate earlier this month.
He admitted that after the show he broke down, reminded of his experiences at the hands of bullies at school.
"I broke down in tears. I didn't get into politics to be abused," he said. "I was bullied at school and this is the exact same thing.
"It was abusive bullying - it was just to belittle me.
"I got into politics to make a bright future for the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone."
Mr Coyle is the current chair of the SDLP's Fermanagh executive.
Last year, he was elected to Fermanagh and Omagh Council, and in January was selected as the party's Westminster candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
He is an outsider in a seat that is shaping up to be a two-way fight between Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party.
Last month, Mr Coyle struggled while appearing alongside Michelle Gildernew and Tom Elliott on an episode of The View.
His nervous performance was cruelly mocked on Twitter.
Mr Coyle said the personal nature of the jibes were deeply painful and upsetting.
"It has been hurtful - if someone attacks you and abuses you, most people will take it to heart," he said.
He was also mocked about his Fermanagh accent.
"The way that I speak - I am from Fermanagh, I am proud of being from Fermanagh and the west of Northern Ireland. I have never had a choice in the way that I speak."
But the Westminster hopeful also vowed the criticism would not stop him trying to top the poll. "I am a kind and caring person - I am not going to change my personality for anybody," he said.
He also hit out at the faceless trolls behind the abuse. "It is very easy for people on Twitter with blank profiles," Mr Coyle told the Belfast Telegraph. "I'm not ashamed of putting my face on my profile, because I want people to know me and know what I stand for."
Last month, Mr Coyle had to defend himself after a senior party figure appeared to not know who he was. Alex Attwood claimed on radio that the SDLP had not yet decided on who would take on Ms Gildernew on May 7. In fact, the party announced on January 18 that Mr Coyle had been selected to stand.
At the time, Mr Coyle dismissed the slip-up and said that he was not bothered by it.
And despite the difficulties, he says he has enjoyed the campaign so far and is confident of getting elected next month. "If I didn't think I could win, I wouldn't be standing in this election," he said.
"Our party always puts up the best candidates it can, and thankfully they decided that I was the best candidate for this election."
Asked about his priorities if he was elected, Mr Coyle said he was focused on job creation.
He claimed: "We have been neglected by our existing MP. We also have an MLA from this constituency in Stormont, Arlene Foster, who is Enterprise Minister, and yet she has brought very few jobs to the constituency."
The SDLP vote in the constituency has collapsed at recent elections, going from 12,810 (23.2% of total votes) in 1992 to the 3,574 votes (7.6%) received by Fearghal McKinney in 2010.
John Coyle has been an SDLP local representative for Erne North since 2011, and was elected to the new Fermanagh and Omagh Council last May. A farmer by trade, he is chair of the Mulleek Community Association and a committee member of his local GAA club, Erne Gaels. He has been an SDLP activist for several years and is currently chair of the party's Fermanagh executive.