A minister in Northern Ireland's outgoing power-sharing government has sacked a top adviser over alleged online sexual indiscretions.
Brian Crowe, 40, strenuously denied any wrongdoing, but was shown the door by his boss Danny Kennedy who claimed his position had become untenable.
The married former Church of Ireland minister in Co Tyrone was also suspended from a voluntary role in the church in Lisburn, Co Down.
With May 5 Assembly elections looming, the claims come as the UUP was already under political pressure following a senior resignation and after prominent members clashed over relations with Sinn Fein at Stormont.
The controversy around the ministerial adviser centres on newspaper transcripts of alleged conversations in an internet chatroom with an unidentified lobbyist. The reported exchanges include references to alleged sexual indiscretions.
An initial statement from the Department of Employment and Learning said the adviser had been suspended as a precautionary step after he made the department aware of "serious allegations" levelled against him.
And while it stated that he had strenuously denied the claims, his minister Danny Kennedy said: "The recent allegations about the special adviser Dr Crowe have in my opinion made his position untenable. It is for this reason I have decided to terminate his employment with immediate effect."
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said: "The Church of Ireland is aware of the allegations made in the Belfast Telegraph concerning Dr Brian Crowe, who has undertaken non-stipendiary ministerial duties in a parish in Lisburn. These are matters which the Church takes very seriously. While the investigations are carried out and the outcome of this process is awaited Dr Crowe's permission to officiate has been withdrawn and he will not undertake parish duties."
The Ulster Unionist Party declined to comment on the claims. But in a statement issued prior to the adviser's dismissal, the Department of Employment and Learning said he had been suspended pending an investigation.
It added: "The allegations have been strenuously denied by the individual concerned. Pending the outcome of this investigation, the department will not be making any further comment. The department has also advised the individual that in accordance with their terms and conditions, they should not make any comment."