SDLP candidate 'deeply hurt' by derogatory posters
An SDLP candidate says he has been "deeply hurt" by derogatory posters about him erected just days before the election.
The placards in Coleraine, Ballykelly and along the Clooney Road near Londonderry appear to focus on the severance payout John Dallat received after retiring from the Assembly last year.
Mr Dallat has already pledged to repay the money he received. He says he is standing again to sort out the "mess" at Stormont.
His selection as the SDLP's only candidate in East Londonderry led to the resignation from the party of Gerry Mullan, who was its local MLA since last May.
While there is no suggestion that Mr Mullan or anyone connected to him was in any way involved in the posters, Mr Dallat has spoken of his hurt at what he sees as an attempt to smear him.
Mr Dallat said: "The old adage of 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' isn't true.
"I have been deeply hurt by the words on these posters and it has been devastating for me and for my family.
"There was one reason, and one reason only, that I decided to put myself forward as a candidate for the SDLP for East Derry and that was to try and sort out the mess in Stormont.
"I have 39 years' experience and I won't engage in the hateful smear campaign that some others think is acceptable.
"I would, however, like to thank the people who took down these posters, the police for their help and especially my friends in the SDLP who have been outstanding in their loyalty."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood lambasted those behind the slur on Mr Dallat's character.
He said: "John Dallat has been a fierce and fearless champion for the people of East Derry in the most difficult of times. He took a stand at a time when doing so put not only your own life but the lives of your loved ones at risk. And over the course of the last 20 years, he has been a vigilant guardian of the public purse.
"For all those claiming to want integrity in government, John Dallat's political career embodies it. The posters that have appeared over the past few weeks are nothing but a cowardly attempt at character assassination against John Dallat."
The poster incident comes amid tensions within the East Londonderry constituency over the selection of Mr Dallat.
Mr Mullan had been elected as the SDLP MLA for the area last May, replacing Mr Dallat who had served since 1998.
However, Mr Dallat was selected by a panel which included former SDLP deputy leader Brid Rogers as the candidate for next Thursday's poll. That prompted Mr Mullan to quit to be an independent candidate.
Mr Mullan, a member of the SDLP for 17 years, said his decision was not an easy one.
Earlier this week he hit out at a sign in the window of the former SDLP office in Kilrea, which read: "Vote John Dallat to be sure that this office reopens to serve all the people". Mr Dallat has claimed that Mr Mullan failed to keep promises to keep the SDLP office in Kilrea open.
Mr Mullan hit back: "It is quite remarkable that a politician of John Dallat's experience has stooped to a new level in what is quite obviously a desperate attempt to influence voters."