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General Election: Sinn Fein candidate's husband says 'debt collector' quip 'a bit of banter'

Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion
Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion
Brian Tierney of the SDLP

By Leona O'Neill and Aoife-Grace Moore

There have been calls for Sinn Fein Foyle candidate Elisha McCallion to apologise amid claims she insulted and "demonised" residents in the constituency in a quip over their use of debt collectors.

Mrs McCallion allegedly posted a Facebook Live video last week while canvassing in the Cornshell Fields estate in Shantallow.

According to those who saw the video, while walking down the street with her canvassing team she allegedly encouraged residents in the area to answer their doors, adding they should not worry as she was not the "debt collector".

Cornshell Fields is an estate of almost 300 family homes on the outskirts of the city made up of a mix of social and private housing.

Residents took to social media over the weekend to vent their fury over the alleged quip, which was taken down after comments were made that the content was derogatory.

Residents said they were outraged and slammed the "awful statement". One said that "the residents of Cornshell are waiting for you to respond to your nasty comment".

Gary O'Doherty, a father-of-three who lives in Cornshell Fields, said that the claims of a "debt collector" quip were "highly insulting".

He said: "I have been living in Cornshell Fields for eight years. I live here with my wife and our three children.

"Both my wife and I work very hard. I am a community nurse and my wife is self-employed. We work hard and pay our bills. We own our own house and for Elisha to say something like that is really insulting.

"Speaking for myself and neighbours that I have around here, we are all hard working people.

"I believe it was meant as a joke but given her status and the reality of what she said, it was a mindless thing to say coming from a Sinn Fein representative.

"I might have found it funny if it was one of my mates saying it down in the pub.

"Her husband was right when he said that it was only meant as a joke.

"But I can't understand why she would say it. It's an insult that they are taking expenses from Westminster and they are not taking their seats.

"The people of Derry - with healthcare, the schools - are on their knees. Living in Derry today is financially hard and as a mental health practitioner I see the mental health issues brought on by financial hardship.

"Although she meant it as a joke, I found it insulting because of what they (Sinn Fein) have supported in the past with regards to welfare reforms.

"I just hope that Elisha is more mindful of her words in future. I think an apology would be enough for us here."

Mrs McCallion's husband Declan McCallion posted a comment on Facebook telling those who had taken offence that it had not been his wife's intention to cause hurt.

He wrote: "Understandably people can become angry and upset if they think their integrity was attacked but before going on the offensive and lowering one's own integrity, just seriously take a second and think!

"Derry and its people are famously known for the banter, and saying something like 'if ye hear a knock on your front door don't worry its not the debt collector' live on Facebook was only a bit of banter."

SDLP councillor for the area Brian Tierney says that Mrs McCallion, who has represented the area for years in different capacities, should have known better and should apologise.

"There's a sense of hurt and anger in this area that one of their public representatives would try and demonise their estate," he said.

"These are good, decent hardworking people and they're upset why this alleged video was posted on social media like it was a joke. It's unfortunate that some people in Derry have to use loan sharks and payday loans, which in itself represents a failure of government and nothing to joke about as a responsible politician."

People Before Profit candidate Shaun Harkin said that Mrs McCallion should know that in Derry, debt is no laughing matter.

"For an elected official to think it is (a laughing matter), just shows how out of touch they are with the lives of ordinary people here," he said.

"That they would mock people in debt is a sign of contempt and shows again that they are not fit to represent ordinary people."

Mrs McCallion was repeatedly asked for a comment over the weekend, which she declined, before her spokesman said: "I won't comment on something that I haven't seen."

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