Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

Bunting accused of 'stirring up hatred' over leisure centre 'closure' post

Belfast councillor rejects claim saying 'it's only asking a question'

Jolene Bunting (Niall Carson/PA)
Jolene Bunting (Niall Carson/PA)

A Belfast City councillor has been accused of "stirring up hatred" over a social media post which said a leisure centre was closed to "local people" in order to "facilitate a group of Muslims".

However, independent councilor Jolene Bunting rejected the criticism saying it was "only asking a question". She also distanced herself from the post saying it was put up by one of her supporters, although she admitted to moderating the comments and that she was happy to be associated with the post.

The post appeared on the 'vote Bunting 1' Facebook page. 

It stated: "QUESTION: What is your thoughts on the Shankill Leisure centre being CLOSED to the Local people, who use it all year round, to facilitate a group of Muslims".

The post was accompanied by a picture of a religious group praying in a hall at the centre. It was from October 2014 when a hall in the centre was booked for an EID celebration.

Belfast City Council said the room would have been booked as per normal booking policy - the same as with any other event - and the centre would not have been closed to the public at the time.

Hundreds responded to the Facebook post with many venting their anger describing it as "disgraceful" others posted derogatory comments while some pointed out the post was not correct.

Sinn Fein Belfast council group leader Ciaran Beattie criticised the message for attempting to inflame community tensions.

"This is just the latest example of Jolene Bunting injecting ill-informed bile into the election campaign," he added.

“It is entirely irresponsible. It is wrong and the vast majority of her claims are completely untrue – they are simply a crass attempt to stir up hatred and community tension.

Jolene Bunting told the Belfast Telegraph the page was run by a supporter of hers but she did contribute to it and post material as Facebook had pulled her account down. She said the leisure centre post was published by a supporter. She said it was "clear" from the page it was run by supporters.

"It is not stirring up hatred. It is asking a question to the public, that is all. We should have more questions asked to see what the public think.

The outgoing councillor said she thought the picture was from 2015 or 16 and not as far back as 2014. She said at the time she was told the entire leisure centre had been closed to facilitate the event.

"It was a question, not a statement of fact," she added.

On the responses to the post she said she some were "much worse" and she had spent some time hiding many posts from "hundreds of trolls".

She also hit out at Sinn Fein for its criticism given how it has defended party members taking part in commemorations for the Shankill bomber.

Jolene Bunting has recently courted controversy putting up election posters emblazoned with slogans such as "Local homes for local people" and "Put veterans before immigrants".

She said she had no problem with multiculturalism in society but said it had to be controlled.

Last year, Jolene Bunting received a four-month interim suspension from the council after she racked up 14 complaints about her behaviour and links to far-right group Britain First.

She later appealed against the suspension, however it was dismissed at the High Court last month.

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