The Irish Republican Socialist Party candidate for West Belfast Dan Murphy has described the ongoing harassment of party election workers in the constituency by the Crown Forces “as an attack on democracy and an attack on the West Belfast electorate”.
The PSNI have carried out multiple stop and searches (pictured, right) of Mr Murphy’s election workers, he said. In one case an IRSP member who was delivering leaflets and voter registration forms was stopped and his car pulled apart, removing the leaflets from the vehicle.
Another member of the election team who was putting up election posters had his van pulled over by the PSNI and they began “ripping it apart”.
Mr Murphy said it was no coincidence the searches began a day after he challenged the PSNI’s use of child informers and guarantees of immunity for informers.
“Last night, the PSNI planted themselves outside the IRSP office on the Falls Road and began stopping and searching people coming in and out,” he said. “A van which we use to transport election billboards and posters was torn apart and its driver searched for around 20 minutes.”
A young mother and her son were out helping out with the campaign when they were also confronted and left terrified by the PSNI.
“The son was petrified and immediately wanted to go home. How can we explain this to them? We and they have a right to engage in the democratic process without fear of harassment and attack.”
He added: “The PSNI will not intimidate us from running in this election nor will we allow them to interfere in the democratic process and attempt to silence the voice of West Belfast.
“For too long the PSNI have went unchallenged within the electoral institutions.”
The PSNI have been accused of turning a blind eye to the systematic removal of election posters of nationalist politician.
One SDLP candidate, Elsie Trainor, was assaulted after she gave chase to two loyalist youths who were removing her election posters in south Belfast. Ms Trainor, originally from County Laois, was called a “republican b*****d” as she followed and filmed the individuals in a 15-minute pursuit through Ormeau Park.
The constituency of South Belfast is one of the most hotly contested in the election, returning one Assembly member from five different parties in the last poll. This time out, the recently ousted former leader of the DUP, Edwin Poots, is in a fight to save his political career following his exile to the battleground constituency.
Ms Trainor said she had seen the loyalists taking down her posters “in broad daylight” on the Ravenhill Road. As she approached them, she was assaulted by one of the youths, and the second (pictured, left) later tried to grab her mobile phone as she videoed them.
When the youths reached a turnstile in the park, Ms Trainor said one got through but she caught up with the other one.
“There was a scuffle and he knocked me against the gate. He hit me on the side of the head and then started running again. I kept giving chase and filming. The other one then came back to help his friend. He lunged at me and tried to grab my phone. I crouched down and held it tight. I was determined that he wasn’t getting it from me.”
While the removal of posters has been widespread, another sinister incident befell an SDLP candidate in Coleraine, where East Derry candidate Cara Hunter said she was confronted by a group of loyalists who told her she was “the IRA”. It followed the removal of more than 15 of her posters in the constituency.
Meanwhile, there have been accusations of official efforts to suppress proxy and postal voting. All of the nationalist and republican parties have been urging people to register to vote online by the deadline of midnight on Thursday 14 April, in order to maximise the turnout.
Former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has been urging everyone to use their right to vote.
“I would urge all electors, especially our young people, to use their franchise, regardless of who they vote for. The ability to vote in an election is a precious and fundamental right,” he wrote on his blog.
“For women, for young people, for sections of society it is a right that has often been denied by those in power who wish to remain in power.
“Different methods have been applied and spurious rationales offered to deny the vote to citizens. Sometimes it is gender discrimination. Women fought long and hard for the vote. On other occasions it is racism. And in others, like our own place following partition, it was sectarian.
“Whether it was here or in the United States, or in South Africa election processes were rigged to deny sections of people the vote. Changing this meant organising and marching. The right to vote campaigners endured batons and water cannons and beatings and worse to win the franchise.
“Love it or hate it the Good Friday Agreement created inclusive political institutions that have the ability to make positive change in peoples’ lives. Making change was never going to be easy or happen overnight. But progress has been made and we have the opportunity to make more.”