Suspected gunman asks ‘where the unionists were’ at polling station

West Tyrone byelection: Staff ‘shaken up’ as man arrested after Greencastle incident

A man has been arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm following an incident at a byelection polling station in Greencastle, Co Tyrone.

The 59-year-old man is being questioned by police, and further searches are ongoing.

Voters in West Tyrone have been going to the polls today in a byelection to choose a new MP to represent them in Westminster.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland's Electoral Office (EONI) said police were dealing with the firearm incident.


The chief electoral officer, Virginia McVea, visited the polling station shortly afterwards, and additional PSNI support was requested.

She told the BBC she was very impressed with how Electoral Office staff conducted themselves over the incident, saying they “remained calm throughout” and “were mindful of other people in the room at the time”. Voting was not disrupted.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) candidate, Chris Smyth, said he arrived at the polling station about 10 minutes after the incident happened.

He said he was told by a police officer at the scene that a man had revealed a gun, and “was asking where the unionists were”.

‘Shaken up’

He said staff appeared “shaken up”, and there was a “very strong police presence” outside the polling station when he left.

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer tweeted that he had spoken to local people and to the PSNI about the incident.

“While no specific threats were made to individuals, this was a frightening incident for the EONI staff and polling agents,” he said.

The previous incumbent in the seat, Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, resigned following a controversial social media post earlier this year. The former MLA shared a video in January of himself posing with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre, in which 10 Protestant textile workers were killed by the IRA.

The tweet was widely condemned, and Mr McElduff apologised for the hurt caused by his “ill-judged actions”, saying he “genuinely meant no offence”.

A border constituency in the west of Northern Ireland, West Tyrone is predominantly rural and has a two-thirds Catholic majority.

It returned a 67 per cent vote in favour of remaining in the EU in the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

Each of the North’s five main political parties are fielding a candidate in the byelection.

The candidates are Órfhlaith Begley (Sinn Féin), Thomas Buchanan (Democratic Unionist Party), Stephen Donnelly (Alliance), Daniel McCrossan (SDLP) and Chris Smyth of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Voters choose a single candidate using the first-past-the-post system.

Polls opened at 7am and will close at 10pm. Ballot boxes will then be brought to a count centre in Omagh where they will be opened and verified.

The count will begin immediately afterwards, with a result expected in the early hours of Friday morning.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times