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Sinn Fein slammed over election rally held in Dungannon council venue

By Adrian Rutherford

Sinn Fein is under fire after using a council venue for an election rally - despite campaigning for poppy-free neutral buildings.

The party has been accused of double standards over the event for its Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew at Ranfurly House in Dungannon.

It was staged in the same week the party controversially voted to ban the sale of poppies at council premises in Mid Ulster.

Now Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council is facing questions over why it granted Sinn Fein use of the building.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow claimed it was a breach of the council's good relations policy.

He said the policy stops political parties hosting events in council facilities.

And he criticised Sinn Fein's actions, accusing the party of preaching equality and neutrality but practising neither.

"Just weeks after Sinn Fein led their eradication campaign to ban the selling of poppies in council premises, they march into a council facility for a party political launch," he said.

The event was held at Ranfurly House on February 25.

According to a Sinn Fein circular, "republican South Tyrone turned out in large numbers" for an "upbeat and vibrant election rally".

However, Lord Morrow said it should never have been held. He added: "Sinn Fein is well aware of the policy which precludes political parties hosting events in council facilities, yet they rode roughshod over what is a good relations principle by holding their election candidate launch in Ranfurly House.

"There is no excusing this breach of protocol."

The poppy ban was passed by the shadow Mid Ulster District Council by 24 votes to 15.

Poppies will not be sold in any council facilities throughout the area ahead of a public consultation. Sinn Fein argued that it was trying to create a neutral environment.

But Lord Morrow added: "Not for the first time Sinn Fein has created their own rules, and driven a coach and horses through the policy they espoused."

A spokesperson for Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council said: "Ranfurly House was booked by an individual on behalf of Sinn Fein for a private meeting. The facility is a shared space and is available to all groups identified under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act." He said the use of a shared space by any such group was not contrary to council policy.

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