UUP councillor defiant over leaflet claiming Alliance ‘aligned’ to SF
A veteran Ulster Unionist councillor has said he is standing by a controversial leaflet condemned by the Alliance Party for alleging it is "closely aligned" with the "IRA's political wing".
Jim Rodgers told the Belfast Telegraph that his stance in the election literature being distributed in east Belfast is shared by others in his party.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was a disgraceful smear and called on the Ulster Unionists to apologise.
She said the leaflet placed her party's representatives at risk in an area where they have previously faced death threats and intimidation.
Mr Rodgers said the UUP was a "party of law and order" which didn't want to see anyone attacked but that it had the right to bring Alliance's "indisputable record of voting time and time again with Sinn Fein in City Hall" to public attention.
But Lisburn North UUP council candidate Stuart Hughes tweeted: "This is not representative of the type of politics many of our members want to or are engaging in during this election.
"It's wrong. I'll continue to talk about local issues and what I can deliver as an elected rep, not others."
The election leaflet for Mr Rodgers and fellow UUP councillor Peter Johnston was distributed in the Ormiston electoral area in east Belfast.
It states: "The Alliance party on Belfast City Council has demonstrated repeatedly during the lifetime of the council that they are closely aligned to Sinn Fein.
"Their record shows time and time again they vote with the Provisional IRA's political wing."
Mrs Long contested the accuracy of the leaflet and said she had contacted UUP leader Robin Swann about his party's literature last week.
"This is a deliberate attempt by the UUP to link Alliance members to the IRA in an area where our offices have been attacked, representatives have received death threats and some have been forced to leave their homes due to previous raising of tensions by the UUP and others," she said.
"Figures show for periods of time, the DUP and others have voted more with Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council than other parties.
"Alliance votes for each issue on a case-by-case basis.
"However, that is not politically expedient for the UUP to state.
"While I wish I could say I was surprised by their latest actions, given the UUP's involvement in producing 40,000 inflammatory leaflets several years ago, I sadly am not."
Mr Rodgers denied that he had been trying to stir up tensions. "We in the UUP believe in law and order," he said.
"We wouldn't do anything that would see individuals or premises being attacked in any shape or form.
"But it is legitimate to state the facts on how Alliance has voted on Belfast City Council.
"No-one can deny that Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA.
"It is also a fact that the IRA has not gone away as the present Chief Constable himself and others in the PSNI have stated."
Mr Rodgers said his view was not an isolated one within his party.
He said he has been inundated with support from UUP members and elected representatives, and from constituents.
In a statement the UUP said: "This was not a central Ulster Unionist Party message.
"It is included in a leaflet distributed in the Ormiston DEA.
"The matter has been referred to party officers."
The party added: "Naomi Long advised Robin Swann that she had also referred the leaflet to the Local Government Ombudsman."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Baeattie criticised the leaflet which he tweeted wasn't "an uncleared message" not sanctioned by party headquarters.
He said that while he didn't support the leaflet, it was "factual" to describe Sinn Fein as the IRA's political wing.