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Sinn Féin election candidates in ’embarrassing’ dispute over seat at school debate in Derry

Two Sinn F electionin election candidates were caught up in an “embarrassing” dispute over who should take part in a school debate.

Ciara Ferguson and Pádraig Delargy both turned up to participate in a Foyle consistency hustings organized by pupils at Thornhill College in Derry.

The school was placed in an “awkward position” after Mr Delargy attended seeking to be on the panel when organizers had only been expecting one Sinn Féin representative.

Read more:The key constituency battles in the election as parties seek to secure votes

After some discussion it was decided only Ms Ferguson should be on the panel on behalf of her party as she had responded to an earlier invite.

It meant all parties taking part in the debate on Thursday had one representative on the panel.

Assembly election candidates for the Foyle constituency during a hustings at Thornhill College, Derry

Sinn Féin said both of their candidates had been invited to take part but “other parties objected”.

People Before Profit candidate Shaun Harkin, who was among those who participated, said: “It looked ridiculous to be quite honest. I mean, what’s going on here?

“Two candidates turning up to a student debate, both looking to speak at the same time and having to have a whole deliberation on who gets to speak.

“It was a bit ridiculous. I mostly felt bad for the students because they were put in this awkward position.”

The SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin said it was “embarrassing” to see Sinn Féin “fighting for the one seat”.

She joined the hustings at the all-girls Catholic grammar school on behalf of her party, which is running three candidates in Foyle for May’s Assembly election.

Ms McLaughlin said: “I have to say it was really embarrassing having to sit there in front of these young women who had really important questions to ask while the two Sinn Féin candidates were fighting for the one seat.

“The politics pupils had organized it so that every party would have equal and fair representation so to watch a 20-minute huff was totally ridiculous.”

The DUP’s Gary Middleton and UUP’s Ryan McCready were also on the panel.

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Mr Harkin said he had told both Sinn Féin candidates had been sent an initial invite but only Ms Ferguson had responded, so organizers were not expecting Mr Delargy to turn up.

He said there was “talk of splitting their time” before it was decided only Ms Ferguson should be on the panel.

In a statement a Sinn Féin spokesman said: “Both Sinn F candidatesin candidates were invited to take part in a discussion with students at Thornhill College.

“Pádraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson attended together to take part on the panel. At the last minute, other parties objected to two Sinn Féin candidates taking part in the panel despite them being invited on the same basis as everyone else.

“After a short discussion with the organizers, Pádraig stepped aside and took part from the audience, while Ciara led the discussion for Sinn Féin.

“Pádraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson are working together to deliver real change for the people of Derry, to strengthen the health care and support workers and families with the cost-of-living crisis.”

Thornhill College was approached for comment.

Mr Delargy and Ms Ferguson were co-opted to Stormont last year to replace Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan after Sinn Féin asked them to step aside in an internal party shake-up.

It was the second time Sinn Féin refilled both MLA seats within the same Assembly mandate.

Read more:The key constituency battles in the election as parties seek to secure votes

Read more:Sinn Féin woman’s family launch stinging attack on party

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