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MP Little-Pengelly tight-lipped over her 'Pride' tweet as party says it has no issue with the words

By Claire McNeilly

The DUP has said it has "no issue" with the wording used by Emma Little-Pengelly in a tweet that she posted ahead of Saturday's Pride march in Belfast.

The south Belfast MP tweeted: "Best wishes to all my friends & constituents celebrating today - all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution"

Her post - retweeted 63 times with 276 likes - did not explicitly refer to the Pride celebrations, or include the Pride hashtag, but it sparked a furore among her 6,500 followers and other social media users, with many seeing it as a break from her party's hardline stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage.

When we asked Ms Little-Pengelly about the tweet yesterday - specifically to confirm that she was talking about the march - the former MLA declined to comment.

Referring to the latter part of her statement, however, a DUP spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph that the party had "no issue with those sentiments".

"If we're talking about people living life free from hate, abuse and persecution, no-one could have any issue with that," he added.

Ms Little-Pengelly's words - taken by many to mean that she backs Belfast's Pride parade and its participants - appear to be at odds with her party colleague, the veteran DUP politician Jim Wells.

The South Down MLA said he would no longer be leaving money to the National Trust in his will after it demonstrated its support for gay rights by appearing in the weekend march.

Indeed, Mr Wells said the that trust would be "very wise to keep out of controversial social issues which have little if anything to do with its main objectives".

In a contrasting tweet to Ms Little-Pengelly's, he posted: "I worked for the National Trust for a decade and have been a member for 19 years. I have resigned and will now support other charities."

The apparent divisions in the DUP emerged as one of the biggest-ever Pride parades was staged in Belfast with thousands of people taking to the streets.

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is banned.

Shortly after Ms Little-Pengelly's controversial Twitter post, local comedian Jake O'Kane said: "Instead of Tweeting how about having a chat with your fellow party members? Maybe a good start would be Jim Wells", while victims campaigner Anne Travers welcomed the tweet saying: "Well said Emma".

Many comments were supportive of her, but others suggested she was "playing to the gallery" and questioned the DUP's stance on LGBT rights, accusing her of "empty sentiments".

DUP leader Arlene Foster has previously insisted her party is not anti-gay, but supports the traditional view that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

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