Belfast Telegraph

Scottish council candidate from NI in Facebook 'Provo' post row

By Claire Williamson

An Scottish National Party council candidate originally from Northern Ireland has become embroiled in a row over the IRA.

Chris Cullen, from Armagh, is standing for Nicola Sturgeon's party in the South Ayrshire Council election.

He has been accused of posting the comment 'The Ra on tour' on a Facebook thread about a holiday last year.

However, Mr Cullen stressed he had no connection with the IRA or ever supported it. He insists he is the victim of a social media hate campaign and sectarian abuse, slamming the claims as rumours.

The Daily Record reported that a complaint had been lodged with the SNP over the comment.

An SNP supporter said: "It is totally inappropriate for a prospective councillor to make a comment about the IRA in this context. It is a terrorist organisation.

"He is a well-known Irish republican. We can't believe he got through the vetting process."

Mr Cullen said: "I am extremely disappointed at how quickly this election campaign has descended into personal attacks and sectarian abuse. I stood as a candidate because of my passion to work on the issues affecting the people of Ayr East, and because I want to see the town that I now call home thrive again.

"But I have been astonished to find myself subject to rumours about my personal life and accusations of affiliation to the IRA. I have never made any secret of the fact that, like many people born in Northern Ireland, I hold dual Irish and UK citizenship.

"I am also a supporter of the unification of Ireland. But I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter or a member of a terrorist organisation. I was 14 years old when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and the idea that I would join a paramilitary group is simply just ludicrous."

Mr Cullen added: "I fully appreciate that the West of Scotland has long struggled with the problems of sectarianism and anti-Irish sentiment but, since moving here five years ago, this is the first time it has affected me directly. Up until now I have found the people of Ayrshire to be friendly and welcoming, so I am hugely disappointed by this development.

"I know that people who put themselves forward for election have to quickly develop a thick skin, and I am happy to take constructive criticism on the chin.

"However, I am not prepared to put up with racist and sectarian abuse, and have now sought legal advice with a view to having these people prosecuted."

In February Scottish First Minister Ms Sturgeon apologised over comments from one of her representatives regarding the IRA.

In a Twitter exchange John Mason said some would regard the IRA as "freedom fighters" when asked to back a campaign for justice for three Scottish soldiers killed by the Provos in Belfast over 40 years ago.

He also hinted the victims - Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey and brothers John and Joseph McCaig - might be to blame for their tragic fates.

Initially he refused to withdraw his comments, but he later backtracked.

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