A member of the Alliance Party's ruling Executive has resigned from his role after sparking outrage when he claimed that unionists are "bred to hate" Catholics.
David Honeyford, from Glenavy, Co Antrim, who was formerly a member of NI21, made the comment on Twitter on Friday and has since deleted the tweet and issued an apology.
The full tweet read: "unfortunately unionists have been breed (sic) to hate Catholics more than corruption. Pathetic really ..."
The comment came during a discussion with unionist commentator Alex Kane on whether anger over the RHI scandal would translate into the DUP losing votes in the forthcoming snap Assembly election.
Mr Honeyford's tweet prompted scores of responses slamming his comment as "disgraceful".
Former North Down Mayor, the DUP's Peter Martin, responded: "Well this one wasn't David ...".
Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley Assembly election candidate, Jennifer Palmer, hit back, "shameful statement, perhaps you should reflect on it and retract it".
Mr Kane also called Mr Honeyford out on the tweet and responded: "That's unfair David. Many, many unionists don't hate Catholics - and certainly haven't been bred to hate them."
Mr Honeyford later deleted the tweet, posting: "I apologise without any reservation for any offence caused by my previous tweet relating to unionists. It was a serious error in judgement and does not reflect either my views or the views of the party. Alliance is comprised of people from all political backgrounds and serves everyone in the community without fear or favour."
East Belfast UUP election candidate Andy Allen tweeted in response: "I respect your ability to apologise David but perhaps you should take more care when commenting in future."
Alliance leader Naomi Long also entered the row and defended Mr Honeywell, tweeting loyalist community worker Ian Shanks: "Not sure what more he can do. He is genuinely sorry. You just look vindictive by continuing this."
An Alliance spokesman said Mr Honeyford has now resigned from the party Executive.
"Alliance is comprised of people from all political backgrounds and is committed to building a society where everyone, regardless of their views and aspirations, feels valued and respected," the spokesman said.
"Regardless of what he intended, David's tweet was inappropriate and offensive. It was made in a personal capacity and does not reflect either his own views or the views of Alliance, nor the tone of debate we seek to promote.
"He apologised immediately on Twitter before issuing a fuller apology which made clear he did not intend to offend or insult anyone, and certainly was not representing the views of the party.
"After reflecting, David has resigned from Alliance Executive as he would not wish his tweet to be used to undermine the work of Alliance in building a more shared and united community, which he fully supports."
In my view, this election will tell us how mature we have become as a democracy because, for the first time since devolution returned 19 years ago, voters have the ultimate democratic choice: if you are happy with the performance of your government, reward those parties by giving them another mandate, or, if you are not, vote in the Opposition and make clear you expect better.
The DUP wants to see pro-Union representation maximised at the forthcoming election. We will work with other parties who receive sufficient support to make them eligible for a place in government. However, it does not require a joint electoral platform with another party to form a coalition government alongside them, or even to work closely and positively with them for the good of all our citizens.