Belfast Telegraph

Mairia Cahill in legal bid to stop election candidates being forced to publish address

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill is set to challenge the law requiring an individual's address to be published when they stand as a candidate in local council or European elections.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is supporting Ms Cahill's case, which she has lodged against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chief Electoral Officer.

Earlier this year, Ms Cahill was forced to withdraw from the local elections over concerns for her personal safety.

She revealed she would not be standing in the May 2 poll to retain her seat on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council after being told that she must make her home address public.

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

However, a rule that would oblige her to disclose her home address 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.

The commission and Ms Cahill are challenging the Secretary of State, as the Northern Ireland Office has responsibility for the relevant legislation while the chief electoral officer is responsible for enforcing the requirement to publish the addresses of election candidates.

The case is listed for review in Belfast's High Court on Wednesday, and will be heard in November. Ms Cahill said she wasn't simply taking the case on her own behalf, but because of the potential precedent it can set for anyone who is in or is considering running for local public office who currently has fears for their safety.

"People should not be forced into a position where they have to give up a position or running for public office because a discriminatory and outdated law could put them at risk," she added.

"A law change in this area therefore would benefit categories of people such as domestic violence and abuse victims, or those with concerns for their safety." Chief commissioner for the NIHRC, Les Allamby, says the case will have wider implications for future electoral candidates.

"We believe the current law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act," he said.

"We strongly believe election candidates in Northern Ireland must be extended the same protections as elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

"In the commission's view, being able to put yourself forward for election locally is a fundamental part of our democracy.

"The requirement for an individual's name and address to be published disproportionately affects the right to privacy and may impact on their ability to stand in a local election."

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