Sinn Féin Northern Assembly member Alex Maskey has provoked another social media quarrel as talks continue to restore Stormont. This follows his description of the North as a "putrid little statelet".
The tweet was deplored by the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Party, but led Mr Maskey to declare that it was a matter of fact that NI had been a "unionist-dominated apartheid state".
The latest row and its timing will concern the British and Irish governments who are trying to coax the DUP and Sinn Féin into striking a deal to reinstate the Northern Executive and Assembly.
Northern Secretary Karen Bradley will update the House of Commons on Wednesday about developments in the all-party talks before they resume at Stormont on Thursday.
The latest spat flared after SDLP leader Colum Eastwood posted a tweet saying he was glad to support the commemoration of the suffrage movement in Britain winning votes for women 100 years ago. "We can't forget that it took the Civil Rights Association here to ensure that all people got full access to voting rights," he added.
That tweet led to Mr Maskey responding on Monday night: “Unfortunately it took more than the CRA [Civil Rights Association] to secure rights in the putrid little statelet NI.”
UUP MLA Doug Beattie said Mr Maskey's tweet "clearly" praised the "murderous terror campaign inflicted on our society by the IRA, supported and promoted by Sinn Féin".
Mr Maskey’s reference that “it took more than the CRA” could be interpreted as saying that the IRA was “justified in burning people alive, kidnapping, torturing and murdering innocent Protestants and Catholics”.
Calling on the Sinn Féin leadership to discipline Mr Maskey, DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly said unionists were entitled to know if Sinn Féin’s leader-elect, Mary Lou McDonald, agreed with him.
“We are entitled to know whether such comments are representative of Mary Lou McDonald’s view when she talks about ‘unionist brothers and sisters’.”
She said describing the North as a “putrid little statelet” showed “utter contempt” for those in the North who were “deeply proud” of its community and its achievements in so many areas at home and abroad.
Sinn Féin’s “continued glorification of the Provisional IRA” showed that “SF’s supposedly new leadership is not willing to even attempt to demonstrate any new thinking or contrition for past action and atrocities”.
Right to vote
Defending his statement, Mr Maskey said the North was a “unionist-dominated apartheid state, founded on religious and civil discrimination, and which denied citizens fundamental rights such as the right to vote”.
“Peaceful civil rights demonstrators were beaten off the streets in an effort to crush the demands for civil and human rights; special powers were used to suppress protest; and the state forces played an active role in sectarian pogroms of the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s. The Unionist Party presided over all of that.”
He said faux outrage from unionists ignored the fact that people in the Civil Rights Association “right through to progressive unionists” opposed sectarian discrimination and fought for civil and human rights for all.