Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein accuse Jim Wells of 'shouting down' election rally - Event 'an insult to IRA victims' says MLA

The protest in Ballynahinch. Credit: Sinn Fein
The protest in Ballynahinch. Credit: Sinn Fein

By Gareth Cross

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard has accused DUP MLA Jim Wells of attempting to "shout down" a Sinn Fein election rally in Ballynahinch on Sunday.

However, Mr Wells said that a protest against the rally passed off peacefully and was held because victims of the IRA felt uncomfortable with having a Sinn Fein event in the "unionist" town.

In 2017 Mr Wells complained on Twitter about Sinn Fein canvassing in the Co Down town of Rathfriland, saying they were "not welcome" in the area.

South Down MP Mr Hazzard said that Mr Wells alongside other DUP and UUP representatives travelled to the town "to shout abuse at Sinn Fein representatives and members of the local community".

Mr Wells, who has had the DUP whip removed due to a disagreement with the party, said that he did not see Mr Hazzard at the event.

The rally was for Sinn Fein candidate Marianne Clearly who is hoping to become the first ever woman elected to Newry, Mourne & Down Council for the Rowallane area.

A loyalist counter protest was held in the town and attended by political representatives from a range of unionist parties.

“Despite the barrage of sectarian abuse and personal vitriol that was aimed at Marianne, it was encouraging to receive such a warm reception from the local community on our canvass where our message of equality, rights and Irish unity was well received," Mr Hazzard said.

“Sinn Fein will not be deterred by Jim Wells or anyone else from bringing that message to the electorate throughout Co Down.”

South Down MLA Mr Wells said that the only words exchanged between himself and Sinn Fein members were "light hearted" and about Brexit.

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard
Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard

"Ballynahinch is a unionist town and there was a large peaceful protest. There was some verbal abuse, but I certainly wouldn't be verbally abusing them," he said.

"There were discussions between police and the protesters beforehand and a set of rules were agreed, there was nothing untoward. They gave as good as they got.

"We were there in case it got out of hand, but it didn't, they were well behaved."

Mr Wells said that holding the rally in a place where IRA victims lived was "insensitive".

"They are coming into a unionist town that has suffered at the hands of the IRA, there's quite a few widows and orphans in the town who have lost loved ones. It's very insensitive to come into a town where they have no support to electioneer," the South Down MLA said.

"If they'd gone to Castlewellan or Downpatrick or somewhere there might not have been a reaction.

"As far as I know it's the first public rally Sinn Fein have ever had in Ballynahinch and I wouldn't go to a nationalist town and hold a rally like this. I would see it as insensitive.

"They are basically wasting their time in Ballynahinch."

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