Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

'Irony' as Belfast election candidate accused of 'stirring up tensions' in Protestant area

Heather Wilson is standing for election in the Castle ward
Heather Wilson is standing for election in the Castle ward
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A Belfast council election hopeful from a unionist background has described as "ironic" accusations she was "stirring tensions" in a Protestant area by putting her election posters up.

Heather Wilson grew up in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast and is standing for election for the city council's Castle ward for the SDLP.

On Thursday evening she took to Twitter to express her frustration her election posters had been taken down in the Ballysillan Road area near Kilcoole Park - not far from where she grew up.

"Disappointed I had posters removed only 24 hours after they were put up, with accusations I was deliberately 'stirring tensions in a Protestant area,' she tweeted.

"Ironic. But nonetheless, boys with scissors and ladders won't stop this train. Time to keep on keeping on."

It is understood two posters removed.

One anonymous Twitter account posted tweets in recent days claiming SDLP election posters in "a unionist area" of Ballysillan were an attempt "to run up tensions".

"They will be removed," the account added.

MLA Nichola Mallon told the Belfast Telegraph: "The SDLP doesn’t engage in sectarian politics and we won’t be intimidated by those who do.

"Heather Wilson is a confident young woman, proud of her identity. She is passionate and committed to improving the lives of everyone who lives in north Belfast whatever their background or politics; so much so that she is putting herself forward for democratic election.

"The difference between Heather and what she has to offer north Belfast and those who removed her posters in the dead of night couldn’t be more stark."

Ms Wilson is the SDLP's first female candidate from a unionist background having grown up in the Ballysillan area. She has worked for the party since 2016 as a press officer and as a policy and research officer for deputy leader Nichola Mallon.

A former pupil of the Girls' Model School, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in February she said an interest in left-wing politics attracted her more to the SDLP than unionist parties or Alliance.

"I've always recognised the SDLP to have the best interests of people at heart," she said.

"Out of all the parties, there's less politicking with the SDLP and I do believe very strongly in reunification.

"That's something I came to at a young age. I felt people would be better off in a new Ireland envisioned by John Hume."

Although the first female candidate from a unionist background, the SDLP has had other Protestant representatives in the past.

"In our party, there are a number of people my age that maybe wouldn't identify as coming from a unionist background but are definitely Protestant, but it's not an issue," she said.

Elsewhere the MLA Daniel McCrossan hit out at "amateurs" for taking to social media to brag of collecting Alliance, Sinn Fein and SDLP posters in the Tyrone area. He said he has made a complaint to police after one Twitter user posted a picture of the boards saying he would use them for the July bonfires.

Sinn Fein candidates have also complained of damaged posters. Newtownabbey councillor Michael Goodman warned of "serious fines" for anyone interfering with election material.

And Alliance leader Naomi Long said she as more determined after posters for her party's Mid and East Antrim Council candidate Noel Williams were damaged in Carrickfergus.

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