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Election briefing: From ‘verbal abuse’ and an inappropriate endorsement, to Cliftonville proxy votes

Andrew Madden


Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

Whatever you do in the run-up to an election, try to avoid having a dispute with a well-respected priest. You would think that doesn't really need to be said, but judging by an incident that allegedly occurred on Easter Sunday in Belfast involving the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) outside St John's Church on the Falls Road, it appears that it does.

‘Verbal abuse’ at parade

Fr Martin Magill has contacted the Parades Commission after one of his elderly parishioners was allegedly verbally abused by a bandsman during a republican march outside St John's. The parishioner, who is in her 70s, reportedly asked a man taking part in the IRSP-organised parade if the bands could stop playing when they passed the church, where Mass was taking place.

Three bands took part in the parade and it is understood the bandsman in question was not part of an IRSP band.

"To his credit, the man in question began to approach members of the band with the request and some of them stopped playing," Fr Magill said on Twitter.

"One bandsman did not and instead verbally abused the parishioner, a woman in her late 70s. She was particularly distressed by his frequent use of the name of Jesus among the profanities he used to her.

"Owing to the lack of respect shown by this bandsman, I have emailed the Parades Commission to make them aware of this incident."

The IRSP has disputed the accusation, saying they’ve investigated the alleged incident and branded the allegations wrong and “misleading".

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"The IRSP in Belfast are scheduled to meet with the affected parties, including the individual who made the accusations online over the course of the next few days,” the party said.

"At the time of the incident, the IRSP were not made aware of any restrictions on passing St John's Church, and when it was highlighted to us, parade organisers promptly acted to ensure bands initiated a single-drum beat."

The statement added: "We firmly believe that this dialogue should have been initiated from the outset instead of making unsubstantiated allegations online by people who should know better."

An inappropriate endorsement

Another thing that should go without saying is that those in positions of power in the public sector should not publicly endorse candidates weeks before an election.

Despite not being in this jurisdiction, that's what the head of An Post has done. Posting on Twitter, David Redmond put his stall firmly behind the SDLP's South Belfast candidate, Matthew O'Toole.

Mr Redmond retweeted Mr O'Toole's election video, with the caption: "What an outstanding guy… one of the smartest in politics in these islands. Please elect @MatthewOToole2".

Proxy vote appeal

There have been calls for the Electoral Office to re-open the window for proxy and postal votes, which would allow Rangers fans to travel to at Ibrox on May 5 and also take part in the Assembly vote.

It comes after the Scottish champions reached the semi-final of the Europa League, with the second leg against RB Leipzig scheduled for polling day. Looking at the timings, though, I don’t see why Rangers fans cannot vote here in the morning and still be able to catch the ferry to head to the game.

So far, the Electoral Office has refused to budge on the issue. But, if they did, what kind of precedent would that set? Can we have such flexibility for supporters of all teams?

Comedian Tim McGarry seems to think so. He joked on Twitter: "If @cliftonvillefc win the league I will still be drunk on 5th May. I demand that the Electoral Office take this in to account #AE22".

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