Northern Ireland

Jim Wells 'unionist town' tweet criticised

Jim Wells Image copyright Twitter

A DUP MLA has come under fire for a social media post in which he said Sinn Féin was not welcome in Rathfriland, a "unionist" County Down town.

Jim Wells published the comment on Twitter on Monday morning, but has since deleted it.

It said: "Many complaints about Sinn Fein canvassing in Rathfriland yesterday.

"They are not welcome in this Unionist town - particularly on a Sunday."

Sinn Féin's Westminster candidate Chris Hazzard said the party "will not be deterred by Jim Wells or anyone else" from canvassing across South Down.

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

A spokesperson for the DUP said that "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."

Andrew McMurray, the Alliance's Party South Down candidate, described the tweet as coming from an "outdated mindset".

"While we have many political differences with Sinn Féin and it is understandable, some parties may not wish to canvass on Sunday, no election workers should be subject to this vitriol.

"The outdated mindset which labels an entire area as having one particularly political viewpoint is disappointing, particularly from an elected representative.

"While I welcome Mr Wells deleting this tweet, I also encourage him to distance himself from it and challenge his political opponents the same way everybody else does - through the democratic process."

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said: "There are no 'unionist' or 'nationalist' no-go areas.

"Jim's comments are deeply divisive at a time when we should be uniting our communities."

The UUP has been contacted for a comment.

According to the 2011 census, 38.54% of those living in Rathfriland are from a Catholic background and 56.82% are Protestant.

A full list of candidates standing in South Down can be found here.