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Jim Wells claims canvassing republicans are not welcome in Rathfriland

Jim Wells said republicans were not welcome in Rathfriland .

The DUP has defended Sinn Féin's right to canvass in predominantly Protestant areas after former health minister Jim Wells claimed republicans were not welcome in Rathfriland, Co Down.

The South Down MLA tweeted the comment yesterday morning, insisting that Sinn Féin activists were especially unwelome in the hilltop town on the sabbath.

Gaffe-prone Mr Wells was involved in an incident with a lesbian couple while canvassing in predominantly-Protestant Rathfriland in 2015.

He was reported to police after he allegedly criticised a lesbian couple's lifestyle.

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The confrontation came just days after the then Westminster candidate linked child abuse to same sex couples during a hustings event in Downpatrick.

In his latest controversial outburst, Mr Wells tweeted: "Many complaints today about Sinn Féin canvassing in Rathfriland yesterday. They are not welcome in this town - particularly on a Sunday."

But Sinn Féin's South Down Westminster candidate Chris Hazzard said party activists would "not be deterred by Jim Wells or anyone else from bringing that message to the electorate".

"Sinn Féin has widely canvassed the South Down area over the course of this election," he said.

"Our message of equality, rights and Irish unity was well received during our canvas yesterday in Rathfriland."

A DUP spokesman said all parties have a right to canvass for votes.

"We recognise, however, that many people value the special nature of Sunday and do not wish to have this intruded upon by political canvassers from any party," he said.

"The tweet in question was deleted shortly after it was posted."

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