Northern Ireland news

DUP canvasser for Nigel Dodds calls sectarian intimidation victim a 'rat'

Mark Officer
Brendan Hughes

A CANVASSER for the DUP's Nigel Dodds has described a woman targeted in sectarian attacks against Catholics moving into a new social housing development as a "rat".

Mark Officer made the Facebook comment after a photo of the young mother-of-four was circulated online.

Police are treating the posting of the image as a hate incident.

It follows sectarian intimidation targeting three homes allocated to Catholic families in Tyndale Gardens in north Belfast's mainly unionist Ballysillan area.

The 24-year-old mother abandoned plans to move into a house last week after its windows were smashed and 'KAT' (kill all taigs) was scrawled on a wall.

A photo shared online of the woman shows her with an Irish tricolour over her shoulders at a concert some years ago.

A Facebook user posted the image online and said: "Witness the woman they tried to put into Tyndale."

Responding, Mr Officer wrote: "What a joke f*** of you rat haha (sic)."

The image was later removed, but appeared elsewhere online.

SDLP Westminster candidate Paul Doherty, who has been supporting the young mother, branded the sharing of the photo and the online abuse as "appalling" and called for the DUP to take action.

It comes amid questions over DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst's contact with Choice Housing relating to the woman after it emerged he had earlier told the body a "concern" had been raised.

There is no suggestion Mr Pankhurst had advance knowledge of the intimidation.

He said raised the matter "in confidence" and had a "duty of care to all residents when I receive any form of information that may indicate danger to life or property".

He has since faced criticism over online comments in relation to other new housing after saying "locals should be served first".

Mr Officer was jailed in 2015 for being involved in the supply of Class A drugs over a cocaine haul worth nearly £1m.

He was pictured last month alongside DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds among a canvassing team for his Westminster re-election campaign.

Earlier this year, Mr Officer signed nomination papers for DUP council candidate Gillian Simpson and canvassed for Mr Pankhurst.

The DUP said Mr Officer is "not a party member".

"This is a completely unacceptable comment which is totally contrary to the values we espouse," a spokesman said.

"We oppose any form of sectarianism, abuse or intimidation, including in relation to where people want to live."

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