Councillor Johnny McCarthy in 'no ramp' victory speech dilemma

Cllr McCarthy Cllr Johnny McCarthy had to give his victory speech from the side of the stage as no ramp was provided.

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NI's chief electoral officer said it is "very regrettable" that a councillor with a disability could not give his victory speech from the podium.

No arrangements were in place for newly-elected councillor Johnny McCarthy, who uses a wheelchair, to access the stage.

Councillor McCarthy, who was elected to Lisburn and Castlereagh council, delivered his speech from side stage.

The council said they "regret any inconvenience caused".

Now Cllr McCarthy has received support from a high-profile disability rights campaigner, Dame Anne Begg MP.

She has criticised the electoral office and Lisburn council for not providing a ramp for the councillor to deliver his victory speech from the stage.

Dame Anne, who is also a wheelchair user, said Northern Ireland's chief electoral officer Graham Shields and the incoming chief executive of Lisburn and Castlereagh district council Theresa Donaldson should apologise to Cllr McCarthy.

Addressing the crowd as he gave his speech, Cllr McCarthy joked: "Obviously they didn't expect me to get elected because there is no ramp here."

Speaking to the BBC, Cllr McCarthy confirmed there had been an oversight in terms of providing a ramp to the platform, but thanked staff at the count for their help and support,

He added that he hoped the incident would help raise awareness of the issues faced by people with disabilities.

Dame Anne Begg Dame Anne Begg MP, the first full-time wheelchair user elected to Parliament, has said the council should apologise.

Dame Anne has used a wheelchair since 1984 and was elected as a Labour MP for Aberdeen South in 1997.

She was the first, full-time wheelchair user to be elected to parliament and said she had personal experiences of the difficulties experienced by Cllr McCarthy.

Dame Anne has said she was "really disappointed" to hear there had been an "oversight" in providing the ramp and said it sent out the wrong message to young people wanting to come into politics.

"I hope that this is a one-off and that the local authorities across Northern Ireland will wake up and realise that they have to provide these kind of facilities for people," she said.

"I certainly think the council should apologise to him because they must have known he was a candidate and the chance of any candidate winning is always there.

"I think that is the least they can do."

Apology

Dame Anne said when she was elected in 1997 the count team provided her with a lift to help her get up onto the stage.

Although, she said she had to be carried onto the stage after the lift broke down when they were testing it.

"I can appreciate the embarrassment and the annoyance that he would have felt that he wasn't able to speak to the people who had elected him from the stage," she said.

She also said the council now has the responsibility to make sure he can do the job to his best ability.

"He just needs to stick in there and do the best job he can," she said.

"By doing that, he will be highlighting the needs of disabled people and his constituents."

Graham Shields and Theresa Donaldson There have been calls for chief electoral officer Graham Shields and the chief executive of Lisburn and Castlereagh council, Theresa Donaldson, to apologise to Cllr McCarthy.

A spokesperson for disability charity Scope said: "It's great to see a disabled candidate elected as a councillor.

"But it is really disappointing that Cllr McCarthy's victory was undermined because simple steps weren't taken to make the podium accessible," they said.

"Disabled people are still massively under-represented in public life and many disabled candidates face negative attitudes and assumptions.

"This shows a real lack of thought on the part of the council and the electoral office.

"We hope that lessons will be learnt, so that this does not happen again in future elections."

In a statement the chief electoral officer, Graham Shields, said; "While the issue of disabled access at the count centre is a matter for the council running the venue, it's very regrettable indeed that Johnny McCarthy, as a newly-elected councillor, was unable to take his rightful place on the podium," he said.

"I've no doubt that the council will want to review the position and set it right for future elections."

The BBC also approached Dr Theresa Donaldson, the chief executive of the new Lisburn City and Castlereagh council, for a response.

Dr Donaldson takes up her post at the beginning of June and was not overseeing the count.

In a statement the council said they "regret any inconvenience caused to Cllr Johnny McCarthy by the lack of a ramp on the deputy returning officer's announcement podium.

"This podium was not intended to be accessed by election candidates," they said.

"A space had been provided in front of the podium for candidates to make speeches, but some candidates chose to stand on the deputy returning officer's podium instead, after he had returned to the count hall.

"The DRO has apologised to councillor McCarthy for any inconvenience caused."

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