The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister has apologised for some of his comments following the death of David Tweed, the former Irish rugby international who spent time in jail for child sex abuse.
“Mr Tweed’s daughters are clearly hurting. I accept and am sorry that some of my comments, whether as reported or because they could have been better chosen, have added in any way to such hurt,” Mr Allister said in a statement on Wednesday.
Tweed, who was also a former DUP and TUV councillor, died in a motorbike crash in Co Antrim last month. He was convicted of child sex offences in 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released in October 2016 after his convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal due to the way the jury had been directed at his original trial.
Mr Allister offered his condolences to his family on social media, describing Tweed as a “larger-than-life character” and saying he had been “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.
After his death two of his daughters waived their right to anonymity to speak out about the sexual and physical abuse their father had inflicted on them.
His stepdaughter Amanda Brown, who was also abused by Tweed, said he was a paedophile and a thug, and criticised politicians who sent messages of condolence following his death.
Earlier this week, the DUP's Ian Paisley and Mervyn Storey released a statement to RTÉ in which they said it was "never our intention to add to any hurt suffered nor would we ever be dismissive of any victim of abuse.
They said they wanted “nothing to take away from the subsequent powerful and distressing words of his daughters who have bravely told of the horrific abuse they suffered ... no one could be but devastated by these accounts and we have always sought to support and enable abuse victims to come forward by supporting Women’s Aid and other such fantastic organisations.”
However, Mr Allister in a BBC interview on Tuesday said he stood by his comments, saying that “my purpose in this is not to be vexatious or to visit discomfort or hurt on anyone but I am entitled to say that if someone passes that I am entitled to express condolences.
“Wasn’t he a larger-than-life character? He was physically large, he was a man of considerable presence,” he said. “I don’t see that as any sort of insult to anyone to say the truth.”
Responding on social media, Ms Brown said she was “even more disgusted” with Mr Allister. “I question your integrity as a political leader,” she said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Allister said he was “the least important person in the controversy that has followed the sudden death of David Tweed. It is the family members who matter, all of them, whatever side of the issues they are on.
“My intention by offering my condolences in the immediate aftermath of Mr Tweed’s passing was to extend my sympathies to those family members who are grieving.
“In light of misconstruction of my motives and intentions I unequivocally repeat that I and my party never have and never will condone paedophilia in any shape or form, irrespective of where it arises.
“I have always and continue to urge anyone with allegations of criminality to go to the police in a timely manner, even when it is very difficult because of familial relationship,” he said.
Additional reporting - PA.