Belfast Telegraph

Alliance MLA apologises after tweet over ‘sectarianism’ sparks anger

Kellie Armstrong (Alliance)
Kellie Armstrong (Alliance)
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

An Alliance MLA has apologised after appearing to suggest that all unionists and nationalists are sectarian.

An online row was sparked after Kellie Armstrong, who represents Strangford, posted on Twitter asking: “Can unionists or nationalists be non-sectarian?”

Kellie_Armstrong.jpg

She was responding to a previous tweet which referred to Paula Bradshaw, the Alliance’s parliamentary candidate for South Belfast.

Ms Armstrong was asked if, in her view, SDLP MLA Claire Hanna was “non-sectarian”.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon, responding to the post, said: “I see with an election in the offing, Alliance are back with their all nationalists and unionists are sectarian narrative. It’s offensive and it’s wrong.”

Defending the tweet, Ms Armstrong said: “I stated that Paula is, like me, non-sectarian. I asked the question because I wanted it answered. In my experience, nationalist and unionist parties enable sectarianism by excluding others from an equal vote e.g. cross community votes.”

Ms Armstrong later tweeted an apology.

“Last night I asked a poorly worded question that wasn’t directed at @ClaireHanna, who I respect, or anyone else with a unionist or nationalist identity. I apologise for any hurt caused, it wasn’t intended. It’s possible to be unionist/nationalist and not sectarian i.e. Paula Bradshaw.”

UUP MLA for Upper Bann, Doug Beattie, said: “I welcome the apology because the original tweet came across as smug and sneering, with the clear implication that only those who were not unionists or nationalists could be non-sectarian.”

SDLP leader and Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood said: “I wasn’t shocked but I was incredibly disappointed this morning to see senior Alliance Party representatives question the anti-sectarian credentials of all nationalists and unionists. This has been a long running, deeply patronising theme but to see it laid out so clearly is very revealing.”

The SDLP and Alliance have selected Claire Hanna and Paula Bradshaw to stand against current south Belfast MP Emma Little Pengelly in the next general election.

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