Northern Ireland news

'Clarity' demanded of DUP over canvasser who called sectarian intimidation victim a 'rat'

Mark Officer
Paul Ainsworth

THE DUP must "step up and provide clarity" over whether a loyalist who called a Catholic victim of sectarian intimidation a "rat" is still canvassing for the party.

The call was made by West Belfast SDLP candidate Paul Doherty after Mark Officer, who has canvassed for DUP MP Nigel Dodds, made a Facebook comment about a mother-of-four who abandoned plans to move into a property in the mainly loyalist Ballysillan area of north Belfast.

Three homes in Tynedale Gardens have been targeted after they were allocated for Catholic residents, with the property earmarked to the 24-year-old mother spray-painted with 'KAT' (kill all taigs), while its windows were also smashed.

In response to a Facebook post with a photo of the woman, which was circulated online in what police have warned is itself a "hate incident", Officer replied: "What a joke f*** of (sic) you rat haha."

Questions have been asked of DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst after it emerged he contacted Choice Housing to raise a "concern" regarding the woman ahead of her move to Tynedale Gardens.

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

Mark Officer, who in 2015 was jailed for his involvement in the supply of cocaine worth almost £1 million, signed nomination papers earlier this year for DUP council candidate Gillian Simpson, before canvassing for both her and Mr Pankhurst

Signing Mr Pankhurst's nomination papers was former UVF member Robert Hayes Spence and Orangeman John Aughey, who was convicted of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily injury after running over a teenage girl during a parading stand-off at Ardoyne in July 2015.

Mr Pankhurst was among critics of Sinn Féin using Shankill bomber Sean Kelly to canvass for the party's north Belfast candidate John Finucane.

When it emerged earlier this year that Officer was canvassing for the party, a DUP spokesperson said he had "expressed remorse" over his drugs conviction and wanted to "move forward and play a positive role in the community".

Officer was described at the time as canvassing on a "voluntary basis", and following his social media comments last week, a DUP spokesperson said Officer was "not a party member", while describing his comment as "completely unacceptable".

In Officer's Facebook page however he describes himself as a "DUP member".

Mr Doherty last night urged the DUP to disclose if Officer was continuing to canvass ahead of polling day this Thursday.

"I think it's vital the DUP step up and provide clarity on this individual and tell us if he's calling at people's doors on behalf of Nigel Dodds," he said.

"I can tell you this woman she is living in absolute fear following this disgraceful incident. Let's hear from the DUP if they think anyone making any such comments about an incident like that is the best person to canvass for them, especially given their criticism of who is canvassing for others in the constituency."

The DUP did not comment last night.

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