TUV’s Jim Allister strikes wrong note on paedophile Tweed

Analysis: Allister described Tweed as ‘larger than life’ and said he had been ‘saddened’ to learn of death

Why did it take Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister so long to apologise for his messages of condolence following David Tweed's death last month?

Tweed, a former Ireland rugby international turned unionist councillor for the DUP and then the TUV, was also a paedophile.

He was convicted of child sex offences in 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison. But he was released in 2016 after his convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal on a technicality related to the way the jury had been directed at his original trial.

After he died, Allister described him as a “larger-than-life character”, adding that he had been “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.

"That says it all," said Marie Brown, director of Foyle Women's Aid. "He was larger than life to his victims. Think of the terror he created in the home, not just through the paedophilia but through domestic violence and through control."

Allister and two other senior unionist politicians – DUP MP Ian Paisley and his party colleague, Assembly member Mervyn Storey – took to social media to express their condolences after Tweed's death in a motorbike crash on October 29th.

But Paisley and Storey, in a statement to RTÉ on Tuesday, said it was "never our intention to add to any hurt suffered nor would we ever be dismissive of any victim of abuse".

However as recently as Tuesday afternoon, Allister was mounting a staunch defence of his comments in an interview with the BBC, maintaining that “if someone passes that I am entitled to express condolences” and that his reference to him as a “larger-than-life character” was a factual description.

One of Tweed's victims, his stepdaughter Amanda Brown, responded on social media that she was "even more disgusted" with Allister.

That Tweed’s crimes were kept in the spotlight were down to Brown and two of her stepsisters, all of whom have spoken out since his death about the sexual and physical abuse they suffered and the domestic abuse he inflicted on their mother.

In a letter to Allister, which she published online, Brown said his comments caused distress to victims and implied he and his party “do not and will not support such victims”. Instead, she said, the effect of the TUV’s silence was to “condone abusers.”

On Wednesday Allister said he accepted and was “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 [felt by Tweed’s daughters]”.

Victims of abuse

He said there had been “misconstruction of my motives and intentions” and he and his party “never have and never will condone paedophilia in any shape or form”.

The issue has highlighted again the challenges faced by victims of abuse, not least those weighing up whether or not to come forward and who are uncertain whether they will be believed.

“The message here to every victim of abuse is that they don’t matter,” said Brown from Foyle Women’s Aid. “Even in death he was regarded as more important than the victim.”

It also raises broader questions about the nature of society in the North, that the leader of a political party can publicly support a man jailed for sexual offences against children with relatively little outcry.

"I think the worrying thing is that maybe the culture in Northern Ireland hasn't moved on," said Deirdre Heenan, professor of social policy at Ulster University. "I would expect if that happened somewhere else there would be such a loud clamour of voices saying this is utterly, utterly unacceptable. As a society, have we had it called out? I don't think so."