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DUP and Alliance in BBC Talkback Twitter spat as Givan quizzed on the show

By Rebecca Black

A Twitter row between the DUP and Alliance got personal yesterday as Communities Minister Paul Givan prepared to answer questions on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.

Noting that Mr Givan was about to appear on the programme, the DUP tweeted from its official party account: "The programme is just starting. You don't have to be from the Alliance Party press office to call…"

It was a reference to revelations in the Belfast Telegraph last week that Alliance had attempted to hijack the show with fake callers.

This prompted a forthright response from Alliance's own account: "No need to. We're confident he'll be a shambles without our help."

Mr Givan was appearing on the programme as voters prepare to go to the polls tomorrow.

He answered a range of questions, including on the proposed Irish Language Act, whether Catholics vote for the DUP, legacy issues and his favourite music - Facing A Task Unfinished by modern hymn-writers Keith and Kristyn Getty.

He claimed that within the Catholic community there was an increasing recognition and connection with a number of DUP policies, and claimed that his party was "much more closely in line" with the views expressed by the Catholic Church's bishops than either Sinn Fein or the SDLP.

Turning to the Irish language, Mr Givan claimed Sinn Fein had politicised it, adding that it "does not belong to any one community".

He finished by telling listeners the election would be close, that either the DUP or Sinn Fein will win, and it's now over to the people.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph exposed a secret Facebook group where Alliance Press officer Scott Jamieson sent a series of posts to an inner circle of members - including leader Naomi Long, former leader David Ford, and candidates Paula Bradshaw, Stephen Farry and Chris Lyttle - encouraging grassroots supporters to pitch "tricky" on-air questions to political opponents and "softballs" to Mrs Long.

He said Alliance was once again targeting BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback after it had done so successfully in last year's election while Mr Ford was leader.

Not all the group's members were in support of Mr Jamison's instructions, with one commenting: "Have to say I find that deceitful and unethical. Is that not what's wrong with our country at the moment?"

In a statement, Alliance said: "The Alliance Activists' group is an informal, private forum run by activists and occasionally contributed to by elected representatives and others. Its style is often light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, which is well understood by everyone involved.

"Any reference to phone-in shows were very obviously made in that tongue-in-cheek style."

BBC Northern Ireland said its radio phone-in programmes "regularly attract a high volume of callers", adding that its production teams "do their best to assess and identify each caller to ensure they contribute to a fair and balanced discussion which our presenters chair live".

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