Belfast Telegraph

Cahill's 'forced' withdrawal from council poll is raised in Commons

Appreciative: Mairia Cahill
Appreciative: Mairia Cahill
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A Northern Ireland minister has said he is "tremendously sympathetic" after SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill was forced to withdraw from the local council elections over concerns around her personal safety.

Last week Ms Cahill revealed she would not be standing for election on May 2 after being told that she must make her home address public if she wants to run for Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

Ms Cahill was co-opted by the SDLP in 2018 and has served the Killultagh ward on the city council.

However, a rule that would oblige her to disclose her home address has prompted her not to seek election.

Candidates are required by law to publish their address on publicly accessible nomination papers, which the party believed could have put Ms Cahill and her family at risk.

This is not the case for Assembly and Parliamentary elections.

Ms Cahill is a prominent Sinn Fein critic who alleged she had been raped by an IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.

Head of the Electoral Office Virginia McVea has written to the NIO and the head of the Electoral Commission highlighting the issue, which they may "wish to consider for legislative change".

Labour's Tony Lloyd, shadow Secretary of State, raised the matter of Ms Cahill's withdrawal during Northern Ireland Questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

He pointed out that anyone standing for a council election in England next month does not need to have their home details published, but in that is not the case here.

He asked why the legislation was not changed in Northern Ireland and when new rules would apply here.

NIO minister John Penrose said any change could not be made before next month's elections.

Mr Penrose added: "This matter has come up in the Press recently and I know it is causing concern to all parts of the House and in all communities in Northern Ireland.

"We are tremendously sympathetic. The difficulty is that changing the laws in Northern Ireland in time for the local elections will probably be impossible.

"We all want to try to ensure that this is dealt with so that the law is in line as soon as we can."

Afterwards Ms Cahill tweeted her thanks to Mr Lloyd "for raising my issue regarding problem with electoral law in NI for local government (elections) in the House of Commons.

"British Government response is to say they're 'tremendously sympathetic' and that it's 'causing concern'."

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