A senior Conservative MP has apologised after being accused of posting a “sneering” tweet about loyalist bonfires.
Simon Hoare, who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, faced criticism for a since-deleted post in which he stated: “Who knew William of Orange arrived in Ireland with hundreds of wooden pallets hence the traditional pallet burning fiesta began.”
Among those hitting out at Mr Hoare was Belfast loyalist and community worker Stacey Graham, who asked: “How can any loyalist/unionist feel comfortable or willing to give evidence at the NIAC whilst Simon Hoare (Chairperson) comes off with these sort of disparaging comments.”
The loyalist activist and blogger Jamie Bryson described Mr Hoare’s tweet as “more sneering” towards unionists and called on him to resign as NIAC chair.
After deleting the post, Mr Hoare later stated: “Earlier I posted a Tweet which was never intended to cause the offence it has some in NI.
"I want to say fully and unequivocally that I am sorry. I intended only to be humorous/tongue in cheek and I got it wrong. I hope my apology will be accepted. It is sincere and heartfelt.”
The apology was welcomed by the Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie who replied “that’s fair” although others said Mr Hoare had done nothing wrong.
One Twitter user said: “Nothing wrong with your humour, wish the same people who probably got annoyed with you would maybe understand it’s a lot more annoying to see people's faces, Catholic symbols and statues, our national flags and countless Irish and now EU things on their bonfires.
Over the weekend Alliance and Sinn Fein politicians had condemned the placing of election posters at a bonfire site in Portadown.
Mr Hoare had raised this point earlier when replying to one critic online who said: “That awkward moment when Simon Hoare admits he doesn't know that bonfires were lit to guide William's fleet to Carrickfergus.”
Mr Hoare responded: “I am aware of that and I have attended 11th July in 2019 in and around Belfast. My point is the dangerously high pallet structures and risks they create to public health. There’s also no need to cover them with posters/images of political opponents. That’s plain divisive.”