Belfast Telegraph

Ruling due on Mairia Cahill challenge to law on candidate addresses

Legal challenge: Mairia Cahill
Legal challenge: Mairia Cahill
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill will find out on Monday if a legal challenge can proceed against a law requiring election candidates to publish their addresses.

Anyone standing in local or European elections are currently required by law to disclose their address.

Ms Cahill has said this breaches the human rights of victims of domestic violence and abuse, or those concerned for their safety.

The rule does not apply to Parliamentary or Assembly elections.

Ms Cahill said she felt forced to withdraw from defending her seat on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council in the May elections over fears for her personal safety.

She has often been the target of intense online abuse, being a vocal critic of Sinn Fein after claiming she was raped as a teenager by an alleged IRA man in 1997.

With the backing of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the case is being taken against Secretary of State Julian Smith and the Chief Electoral Officer.

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A hearing at Belfast High Court on Monday will determine if the case can proceed to a full hearing.

Ms Cahill said: "I would like to thank the commission for their support in this case, which I think is an important case to take, not just on my behalf, but on the potential precedent it can set for anyone in or considering running for local public office who currently has fears for their safety."

She added: "People should not be forced into a position where they have to give up running for public office because a discriminatory and outdated law could put them at risk. A law change in this area would benefit all representatives in Northern Ireland, but particularly people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse, or those with concerns for their safety."

Chief commissioner Les Allamby said Ms Cahill's human rights have been breached and the current law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

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

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

Mr Allamby said the current law had a disproportionate effect on the right to privacy, could put candidates off, and should be changed where there are "reasonable circumstances" for withholding it, such as the fear of domestic violence.

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