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TUV 'bans councillor Jolene Bunting from standing in vote'

By Rebecca Black

The TUV is allegedly refusing to let its only Belfast councillor run in the Assembly elections.

Jolene Bunting said officials would not allow her to stand in North Belfast because she posted a sectarian message online several years ago.

In one post, she referred to "poor Catholic b*******" and said they made her sick.

In another, the councillor claimed "weed (cannabis) can cure arthritis and cancer" and apparently offered drugs paraphernalia, including "bongs, skins and blunts", for sale.

The TUV disputed Ms Bunting's claims and insisted financial reasons were behind its decision to not run a candidate.

But Ms Bunting said yesterday that the party's decision had left her heartbroken.

"I can understand republican trolls using these screenshots of silly things I said as a teenager (and have since apologised for)," she wrote on her Facebook page.

"However, it is totally heartbreaking to have these posts cast up by members of my own party as an excuse, along with others, not to provide the people of North Belfast with the opportunity to vote for a TUV candidate.

"Today, party officers made it very clear that I do not have the support of the party.

"I have some hard thinking to do over the next few days."

Ms Bunting did not respond to attempts made by the Belfast Telegraph to contact her.

However, she later wrote on Facebook: "No matter what the outcome over the next couple of days, I will continue to do my upmost (sic) to improve the lives and environment for the constituents of Court DEA (Greater Shankill). I love and care for my community, that will NEVER change!"

A TUV spokesman confirmed party officers met with Ms Bunting yesterday morning.

"The realities of an Assembly election are that as a party we must cut our cloth accordingly to give all of our candidates the best chance of success," the spokesman said.

"Sometimes, that means taking tough decisions.

"Members of the TUV officer team met with councillor Jolene Bunting this morning.

"Officers expressed the view that in light of the party's disappointing performance in the constituency in last year's Assembly poll and the fact that branch finances are very low, it was not viable to contest in North Belfast.

"TUV has supported councillor Jolene Bunting as best we could as she has adapted to being a councillor. We will continue with that support."

Last year John Miller ran for the TUV in North Belfast and gained 644 votes.

The TUV did not run a candidate in the area in the General Election.

In 2014, Ms Bunting became the first TUV councillor to be elected to Belfast City Council.

She was forced to apologise a short time later after the sectarian rants she posted online as a teenager resurfaced.

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