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PUP woman quits party following backlash over McGuinness tweet

By Rebecca Black

The PUP's director of communications has resigned after a row over a comment she made on social media.

Sophie Long (30) sparked anger among some of her colleagues in the UVF-linked party when she tweeted condolences over the death of Martin McGuinness.

Reacting to the death of the former Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister on Tuesday, she posted: "Condolences to Martin McGuinness's family, friends and comrades."

The use of the word "comrade" sparked particular ire, with her critics questioning whether she was sympathising with members of the IRA.

Twitter user Steven Pollock said he had resigned from the party in protest at her tweet.

Ian Shanks said he would quit if Ms Long didn't resign, adding that he planned to apologise to the families of IRA victims himself on her behalf.

Another PUP member, Scott McDowell, tweeted: "Totally and utterly clueless! You really have no shame. Do us all a favour and just go."

Meanwhile, a Twitter user named Midshankillresidents tweeted: "Those same comrades that bombed and shot their way through the Shankill ruining thousands of lives? You're a disgrace!"

However, others, including Linda Ervine, supported the east Belfast woman.

Ms Ervine - wife of David Ervine's brother Brian - tweeted: "Sorry to see you on the receiving end of this unfair criticism. Haven't noticed it happening to others who have paid respects."

Chairman of the Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum Glenn Bradley pointed out that when Belfast PUP councillor Hugh Smyth died in 2014, Mr McGuinness sent a letter to Mr Smyth's family expressing sympathy.

Ms Long confirmed yesterday afternoon she had resigned from the PUP.

A party insider claimed the tweet was the latest in a series of clashes between Ms Long and other members.

"This has been building for a long time," he added.

In a statement Ms Long said: "It is with regret that I tender my resignation from the Progressive Unionist Party.

"I wish the party well in future campaigns and hold several of its members in the highest of regard."

She added: "My politics remain progressive; I aspire to a society of equals, free from violence, which includes and respects women, refugees, workers, LGBT citizens, and both Britishness and Irishness.

"I hope that the PUP and others can also promote these values."

Ms Long had most recently served as head of communications for the party.

Last year she ran for election to the Assembly in Upper Bann, where she attracted 704 votes.

She is currently studying for a PhD in politics at Queen's University in Belfast.

Her PhD is entitled An Investigation Into Ulster Loyalism And The Politics Of Misrecognition.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said he did not wish to say anything about Ms Long's decision to leave the party.

"Sophie and I had a great working relationship so I don't want to comment on this. I will leave it for her to make a statement about it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

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