A bizarre graffiti attack at St Colmcille’s Church, Carrickmore, County Tyrone is being linked to next Thursday’s by-election to the Westminster parliament in the West Tyrone constituency.
One read “Begly (sic) SF Irish baby killer”, while a message on another wall said: “Begly (sic) shame on you. RCs [Roman Catholics] speak out”.
The comments refer to the Sinn Fein candidate Orfhlaith Begley, and have been linked to an unlikely campaign by hardline unionist candidate Tom Buchanan to win votes from Sinn Fein over that party’s new abortion policy.
Other graffiti read: “Only DUP speaks for Irish unborn. To speak Irish and play GAA vote DUP”.
During 30 years of conflict, the church was never attacked or touched. The biblical reference “Rev 3, 15-22” was also daubed on the church door.
A man was challenged near the church shortly before the graffiti was discovered. It was reported people became concerned after a stranger in a van was reported acting suspiciously in the area. The man was approached after he parked a van near business premises close to the church.
It was reported that he quoted the bible and told those questioning him that he ‘forgave’ them and called on them to ‘repent’. He then left the area.
The incident has been connected to comments by the DUP candidate for the forthcoming by-election. He said that he believes he can convince enough Catholics in the area to win the seat on the abortion issue.
Last time around, in 2017, Sinn Fein achieved 22,000 votes in the overwhelmingly nationalist constituency - more than every other party combined.
DUP candidate Tom Buchanan said his party’s stance on “moral issues” could lead to an upset. “We are the only people capable of unseating Sinn Fein and we are the party that stands strong on a lot of moral issues that, at this moment in time, are raising issues with Roman Catholic voters because of a change in policy within Sinn Fein,” Mr Buchanan said.
Five candidates are contesting the West Tyrone by-election which was called after the resignation of Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff.
Sinn Fein candidate Orfhlaith Begley, a lawyer in Carrickmore, pledged to work “without fear or favour for all the people” of the constituency.
“If you want an Acht Gaeilge, equal marriage rights, the right to a coroner’s inquest then I am calling on you to stand with Sinn Fein.
“If you want an MP who will stand up in the interests of all our people against the twin threats of Tory austerity and Brexit then stand with Sinn Fein.
“If you want an MP who is prepared to work for Irish unity, not just talk about Irish unity then stand with Sinn Fein.
“I want a modern and inclusive Ireland. An Ireland in which political persuasion, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or skin colour make no difference as to how a citizen is treated.
“Sinn Fein is the only party in West Tyrone able to deliver on a rights-based agenda.
The only nationalist rival to Ms Begley is the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan, who has criticised Sinn Fein’s absention from the Westminster parliament as well as its decision to collapse the Stormont Assembly.
“If I’m elected as an MP, I will go and vote down Brexit and stand up to the British government,” he said. “The two chambers that are most relevant to articulate the needs of our people on Brexit are Westminster and the Assembly and Sinn Fein are in neither.”
The other candidates in the election, which will be held on May 3, are UUP’s Chris Smyth and Alliance’s Stephen Donnelly.