SDLP candidate ’emboldened to continue’ after attack in Belfast park

Police are investigating an attack on Elsie Trainor in Ormeau Park on Monday evening as a hate crime.

Rebecca Black
Wednesday 13 April 2022 17:05
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with South Belfast candidate Elsie Trainor (Rebecca Black/PA)
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with South Belfast candidate Elsie Trainor (Rebecca Black/PA)

An SDLP candidate who was assaulted and subjected to sectarian abuse after confronting two youths who had been removing her election posters said she feels emboldened to continue.

Police are investigating the attack on Elsie Trainor at Ormeau Park on Monday evening as a hate crime.

It is the latest in a series of incidents, with police on Wednesday saying they had received 41 reports relating to election posters being damaged, removed or destroyed between March 22 and April 11.

A number of parties have said their posters were among those targeted.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill have both condemned the incident.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has called for information around the attack on Ms Trainor and any potential witnesses to come forward.

Ms Trainor said she is feeling emboldened to keep going.

“When I see an attack on democracy and an attempt to intimidate, it makes me stronger and it makes me more determined to take down this polarisation and work the common ground,” she said.

“I’m a fiercely determined person and always have been… it’s incidents like this where you can see society is breaking down and it’s hurting us now and will continue to hurt us into the future.

“So I feel emboldened to continue with that message and continue with that determined work.”

Ms Trainor was pushed against a fence and subjected to sectarian abuse, police said, after she chased the pair who, she said, were removing her election posters.

She described witnessing a “systemic attack and intimidation”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and South Belfast candidate Elsie Trainor. (Rebecca Black/PA)

“They went from lamp post to lamp post, with their ladders, cut down the posters and continued on in broad daylight, in rush hour on one of the main roads in Belfast,” she said.

“That was a blatant message that they wanted to send, they wanted to be seen, they wanted to intimidate and they wanted to send a clear message that democracy wouldn’t hold here, their intention would hold here, and that’s what angered me, and that’s what made me want to bring them to justice and that’s why I gave chase in the first place.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood met with Mr Trainor in Ormeau Park on Wednesday.

He slammed the intimidation of his party’s candidates and expressed concern about the tone in this election campaign.

“We have had candidates intimidated, Elsie of course was attacked in this park, we had posters burned, posters taken down,” he said.

“The tone isn’t good and it is worrying for democracy that people think they can threaten people like Elsie away from the democratic process.

“They have to understand that the SDLP has been through this before for many years and we won’t be put off by thugs who aren’t prepared to take part in the democratic process themselves.”

Mr Eastwood also condemned unionist leaders who are taking part in anti protocol rallies “standing beside rabble rousers who are stoking this up”.

Jim Allister and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson removing a poster of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Doug Beattie with a noose around the neck (Liam McBurney/PA)

An election poster of UUP leader Doug Beattie with a noose tied around his neck was displayed at the latest rally in Lurgan last Friday.

Mr Beattie had been due to speak at the event but withdrew, expressing concerns about the impact of the rallies.

Mr Eastwood urged those taking part to “think very carefully about what they do next”.

“My view is they have a right to protest but they also have a responsibility that comes with those rights to tone down the rhetoric, to get people off the streets and enter into a democratic discussion,” he said.

Chief Superintendent Nigel Goddard said officers are committed to ensure all candidates can participate in the Stormont election free from harassment, intimidation and other forms of criminality.

He said police have contacted the political parties to offer briefing sessions and information for candidates on crime prevention and personal safety.

Police have issued an appeal for information about the attack on Ms Trainor which happened in the Ormeau Park area around 5.30pm on Monday after two males were seen removing election posters from a lamppost on the Ravenhill Road.

“A short time later, a female was assaulted in the Ormeau Park area. She was pushed against a fence by a male, who was described as being around 5ft 8in in height, approximately 18 years old, and dressed in a light grey jacket,” the force said.

“She was then pushed by a second male, who was described as being around the same age, approximately 5ft 10in in height, and wearing a dark grey jacket with the hood up, black framed glasses, and a face mask.

“The female was also subjected to sectarian abuse during the incident, and was understandably left shaken. Thankfully she did not sustain any physical injuries.”

They have urged anyone who witnessed it, or has any dashcam or mobile footage or any information which could assist, to contact officers on 101, quoting reference number 1437 of 11/04/22.

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