SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly: Sinn Fein tried to kill my poll hopes on election trail with dirty smear campaign
Newly elected SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly has accused Sinn Fein of using dirty tricks against her on the campaign trail to scupper her election chances.
She has told how people verbally abused her on the streets of her Upper Bann constituency and disparaged her on social media.
The veteran politician told the Belfast Telegraph in an interview published today that she thought twice about running for Stormont after the pain of losing her seat just eight months ago to Sinn Fein.
Last week's snap election saw the number of seats in each of the 18 constituencies reduced from six to five.
Against the odds, Mrs Kelly was returned to Stormont.
Now she has spoken out about how bewildered she felt at being "singled out" for attention, when a total of 33 MLAs received payments after not being returned to Stormont last May.
"I felt like I was being singled out for different treatment, and to a certain extent I decided to say nothing and that it was best to stay quiet, but I was angry and frustrated by it," she said.
"It just shows the power of language and how it can stir up things. Most people are good but I wonder what sort of people can sit at a keyboard and give abuse and call you names when they have never met you and don't know you.
"Do they even know the impact their actions have on individuals and their families? I had people verbally abusing me on their doorsteps and in the street... it was shocking.
"I hadn't done anything wrong. I had given up a 22-year career in the health service to do something which every four years was unstable. I worked hard at it. People are saying I had no right to stand again but I broke no rules. I received a wind-up payment of £22,000, which went towards keeping my staff and the office open for another four months, and the rest was severance pay.
"It is very tough when your integrity is being impunged, and I felt I was being treated differently to other MLAs.
"Sinn Fein did try and use it to discredit me on the doorsteps."
The 57-year-old also talked about the devastation of losing her Assembly seat last year, describing the loss as like a bereavement.
"I had worked non-stop for 40 years and suddenly I didn't have a job to go to," she said.
"I had no routine and no structure, and from being used to the phone ringing 24/7, suddenly there was silence.
"It amazed me how you could be in such demand by people and then you are no one to them, and they just walk past you very quickly. However, many people were supportive, and your family gets you through.
"I then started asking myself where I went wrong. It is like bereavement and I had to come to terms with a huge loss in my life.
"I had given it so much and put all these hours in and suddenly I had all this time to fill."
She also described the moment last year when she knew she had lost and was steeling her nerves to face the public.
"It was up and down on the day of the count and I had my family and campaigners there and I was trying to hold it together," she said.
"I remember getting a tension headache and my sinuses all blocked and when it was clear I wasn't going to win a family member suggested I go home. I left and went to Tesco and bought Sudafed and painkillers, and I remember sitting in my car with the window down to get some fresh air and I just thought: 'I'm not going to win but I'm not going to run away'. And I went back in."
When she realised there was going to be another election this year she had doubts over whether or not she should stand again.
"I just thought if I lose this time that is it and I will draw a line under it and move on with my life," she said. "I couldn't believe it when I was elected and I was back in. On Monday going up to Stormont, it felt surreal.
"I hope the sham fights stop and rational thinking resumes."