UUP's Jim Rodgers refuses to apologise over Alliance 'IRA' leaflet
UUP Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers refused to apologise for a leaflet which linked Alliance with the IRA in the run up to the recent local government elections.
Rodgers had the party whip removed over the anti-Alliance Party leaflet. The move by the party came after its poor council election results with many claiming - including unseated members of the party - it was responsible for the loss of elected representatives.
However, some defended the councillor saying he was being made a "scapegoat" for the poor results.
The veteran politician and former Belfast Lord Mayor was speaking on the BBC Nolan show about the latest transport statistics showing more people are using bus and rail services.
Turning to the leaflet he was asked if he wanted to withdraw the comments or apologise for them and also about how he felt about the party whip being removed.
He said he had been brought on the Radio Ulster show to talk about public transport.
"I am not prepared to get involved in any other discussions and I hope you understand why," he added.
In the run-up to the council election, the controversial leaflet circulated in the Ormiston area of east Belfast alleged the Alliance Party was "closely aligned" with the "IRA's political wing".
The leaflet was widely condemned, with the UUP stating it was not sanctioned by the party.
Party leader Robin Swann said the leaflet contained "language that we would not use" and it didn't help the overall interests of the party.
Mr Swann said he had spoken to Alliance leader Naomi Long on the issue and "made my feelings clear".
In Belfast - where the party once dominated - it has been reduced to two seats from seven prior to the election.
UUP colleague Stephen McCarthy laid the blame for losing his seat on Antrim and Newtownabbey council on Jim Rodgers, while Jeffrey Dudgeon, who lost his seat in Belfast, said it had proved a hindrance and branded it "just silly".
Rodgers denied accusations that he was responsible for the loss of council seats, insisting he would never knowingly do anything to damage the party.
Referring to Alliance leader Naomi Long's thanking him for her party's vote going up, Mr Rodgers said: "That's politics and I'm not surprised at her comments. It didn't cause me any concern. I've been a long time in the political arena.
"As far as I'm concerned I can hold my head high. I try and work with everybody, regardless of who they are or what they are."
Some unionists have accused Alliance councillors in Belfast of siding with Sinn Fein frequently in City Hall votes.
Asked about the leaflet, Mr Rodgers, who has been a councillor for 26 years and whose running mate Peter Johnston lost his seat on the council, said: "To me it's a fact that Sinn Fein's military wing is the Provisional IRA."
He added: "We've taken no criticism from the wider community. People have said to me and Peter that they agreed that it's a fact and this cannot be denied.
"I've had a large number of party members and friends contact me saying it's an absolute disgrace that people have been trying to blame me and Peter."
He added: "There's just been a tide against the party unfortunately and we were aware of it and unless we take stock and make our minds up about where exactly we're going, we could lose further seats in the future."
Belfast Telegraph Digital