Belfast Telegraph

Election rules to be reviewed after ‘devastated’ Cahill is forced to quit council race over concerns for her personal safety

Mairia Cahill says she is disappointed she can’t run in election due to rule over publishing a home address
Mairia Cahill says she is disappointed she can’t run in election due to rule over publishing a home address
Jeffrey Donaldson
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

A rule that has led to an SDLP candidate withdrawing from next month's local council elections will be "urgently reviewed" - but not in time for her to take part.

Mairia Cahill yesterday revealed she would not be standing for election on May 2.

She claimed she had been railroaded into withdrawing from the poll due to concerns around her personal safety.

Ms Cahill said she had been told that she must make her home address public if she wants to run for her seat on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

She said that she had taken the difficult decision to withdraw "through no fault of my own".

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

However, a rule requiring her to disclose her address has prompted her not to run.

All candidates for the local government elections must make their address public as one of the requirements for getting on the ballot paper.

This is not the case for Assembly and Parliamentary elections.

Ms Cahill said that publishing her address "could put my young daughter and I at severe risk in the future" and is something she cannot do.

She said that while it had been an easy decision to make, it was a "bitter pill to swallow".

Electoral Office head Virginia McVea told the Nolan Show that she had written to the Northern Ireland Office and the Head of the Electoral Commission highlighting the issue, which they may "wish to consider for legislative change".

In response a UK Government spokesman said it was "sympathetic to the concerns raised", but any change in the rules will not be made before next week's deadline for nominations.

"This requirement has been in place since 1962 and it would require legislation to change the law," he added.

"This is not possible ahead of the local elections deadline on Monday.

"We will urgently review this issue going forward."

Ms Cahill said that DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (below) had been in contact with her to assure her he would raise the issue with the Secretary of State and ensure it was changed for future elections.

"I went to sign my nomination forms on Wednesday night and realised it was asking for a home address. I rang Virginia McVea and she said 'this is it' basically, her hands were tied," Ms Cahill explained.

"She told me there were at least two other cases where people were reluctant to stand because they would have to disclose their home address. It effectively stops people with safety or security concerns from running for local government.

"It's going to be very difficult for the candidate who replaces me, we've already spent money and my posters have been up for three weeks, we were confident enough of retaining the seat, we've worked hard on it over the last 10 months and now I can't run."

Ms Cahill said that there was no hope of a U-turn and that she was "devastated" she would be unable to continue her work on the council.

"I got a lovely message today from a group in a predominantly loyalist area who I had helped get sporting facilities, they said they were sad to see me standing down and hoped to continue our relationship," she said.

"There is an example of positive work that has been done on the council that now is going to go by the wayside. That was something I made a point of doing, I went to the Black Preceptory parade, I went to Remembrance Day events, I really wanted to reach out across the community.

"There's lots of good work that could be continued, someone else will pick it up, but it's just devastating that those relationships have been built up and now you're barred from running."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that the situation was a "total disgrace" and that the law "should protect victims of harassment, not punish them".

Ms Cahill came to public attention in 2010 after she made allegations she had been raped by an alleged IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997. She waived her right to anonymity to speak out.

She further claimed that the IRA conducted its own inquiry into her account, subjecting her to interrogation and forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.

The man she accused of rape was later acquitted of criminal charges in court after Ms Cahill withdrew her evidence.

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