Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff has been told to make a public apology in the Assembly after defending young republicans who painted post boxes green.
Following a decision by the Assembly's standards and privileges committee, the outspoken republican, who chairs the Culture Arts and Leisure watchdog committee at Stormont, is set to be the first MLA required to say “sorry” by the group.
But he put his own stamp on the controversy by rejecting allegations he encouraged vandalism and stood by controversial comments he had made.
Postboxes were painted green by republicans in Newcastle last October, only to be speedily repainted red by a contractor sent in by the Royal Mail.
It was the first such incident in the Co Down town but has also occurred in Mr McElduff’s constituency in West Tyrone where as up to 50 postboxes in the Strabane area where painted in September alone last year.
At one stage, Sinn Fein’s youth wing, Ogra Shinn Fein, which backs the campaign, claimed more than 100 boxes were repainted and posted some video footage on YouTube.
Shortly after the acts came to public attention Mr McElduff doubted whether they could be viewed as criminal damage. He said: “But I can say that it is good that people are making peaceful political statements.”
The committee on standards and privileges, which rules on breaches of the code of conduct by MLAs, met this week.
It confirmed yesterday that it has concluded that Mr McElduff broke the code in relation to a members' duty to uphold the law. It decided that he should make an apology in the Assembly.
Sinn Fein's three MLAs on the committee — Willie Clarke, Francis Brolly and Paul Maskey — dissented from its report on the subject, arguing that clarification on a legal point was needed.
Mr McElduff confirmed he made the statements but refused to comment on possible sanctions.
Thomas Buchanan DUP MLA for West Tyrone, who made the complaint to the committee, believes the remarks amounted to an endorsement of vandalism.
He said: “It is clear he broke the code of conduct. As MLAs we have a duty to uphold the law.
“As a public representative you can’t encourage people to break it. I am glad to see the matter has been taken up.”
At the time Mr Buchanan said: “No amount of green postboxes will hide the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so.”