Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

Address safety fears force Mairia Cahill out of council election vote

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill has been railroaded into withdrawing from the upcoming local council elections due to concerns around her personal safety.

Ms Cahill said that she had been told that she must make her home address public if she wants to retain 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.

All candidates for the upcoming local government elections are required to 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. That is something I cannot do."

It effectively stops people with safety or security concerns from running for local government. Mairia Cahill

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

The Head of the Electoral Office 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 that they may "wish to consider for legislative change".

Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland Virginia McVea.
Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland Virginia McVea.

Ms Cahill said that the DUP's Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson 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.

A UK Government spokesperson said they are "sympathetic to the concerns raised".

"This requirement has been in place since 1962 and it would require legislation to change the law," they 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 she only learned she would be prohibited from standing this week.

"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," she explained.

"She told me there were at least two other cases were 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 way side, 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."

We are unwilling to put Mairia or her family at risk. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

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

Former Labour Senator Ms Cahill came to public attention in 2010 after she made allegations she had been raped by an 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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