Sinn Féin MLA trio sorry for ‘unacceptable’ tweets

Party vice-president and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill condemns social media comments

Three Sinn Féin Assembly members (MLAs) have apologised for historical tweets containing derogatory and offensive language.

The MLAs – Emma Sheerin, who represents Mid Ulster, Jemma Dolan in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Sinéad Ennis in South Down – all tweeted separate apologies on Wednesday afternoon.

Party vice-president and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill condemned the comments made on social media posts and said they were “wrong, they are offensive and they are not acceptable language for any Sinn Féin representative to use”.

She said she had “spoken directly with each of the MLAs and made this very clear to them” and they told her they “deeply regret the language used”.

Their tweets were uncovered by BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan show. They were posted approximately 10 years ago, before entering politics.

In social media posts, Ms Ennis referred to "Huns", a derogatory term for Protestants, while Ms Dolan deployed an offensive term used to describe people with disabilities. Ms Sheerin made a comment about Martin McGuinness meeting Queen Elizabeth, saying "hope that he takes a gun. #justkidding".

In a tweet on Wednesday afternoon Ms Sheerin said she was “deeply sorry that I used offensive terminology on social media. It was and is totally unacceptable.

“It is not how I would express myself today and I unreservedly apologise for the offence that these comments have caused.”

Ms Dolan said: “I want to apologise and say that I regret and am very sorry for the offence caused by comments I made historically on social media.

“These comments were unacceptable and do not represent in any way how I would now express myself.”

Social media

Ms Ennis issued a similar apology, saying “I deeply regret the offensive comments I made on social media. I am sorry for using language which I accept was totally inappropriate and wrong. I apologise unreservedly for the offence caused.”

It follows controversy over a series of tweets sent by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie while he was a serving British army officer which almost cost him his job as party leader.

He kept his post after he received the unanimous backing of his party’s MLAs and officers despite accusations of misogyny and racism in the social media posts.

Mr Beattie apologised repeatedly in several media interviews on Tuesday, saying what he had done in the past was “absolutely wrong” and his tweets were “not representative of me as a person then [and] they’re certainly not representative of me as a person now”.

The content of the tweets included derogatory comments about women and members of the Travelling community.

Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots has instructed solicitors to issue defamation proceedings against Mr Beattie over a tweet containing an apparent joke referring to his wife and a brothel.

He is also taking action against the Conservative MP Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, who retweeted it.