UNIONISTS have attacked Alliance leader David Ford after a published letter from one of his officials said he was "agnostic" about the Union.
Alliance assistant director Stephen Douglas was writing in the Irish Times in reply to criticism over the party accepting any future policing and justice ministry.
The part of the letter that has annoyed unionists is when Mr Douglas goes on to outline why he admires his party leader.
He said: "And for me, as a nationalist and a republican, most importantly, for his consistent agnosticism on the question of either the union or a united Ireland."
He also says he has to work in a bomb-proof building because of threats from unionists over stands his party has taken on issues like flags and racism.
The letter prompted UUP leader Sir Reg Empey to call on Mr Ford to state his position on the Union.
He said: "So are we to assume that the Alliance Party in general and David Ford in particular don't really care one way or the other about the Union?
"Because if that is the case then it explains why they have never really been noted for their enthusiastic promotion of the Union.
"And this does matter, because (and contrary to what Mr Douglas says in the opening paragraph of his letter) David Ford has given a very clear indication that the Alliance Party is prepared to take the justice ministry.
"Many unionists - those who are not agnostic on the issue - would be very concerned that our first Justice Minister could therefore be someone who is not pro-Union.
"I'm also very concerned by the fact that Mr Douglas (and perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he is a 'nationalist and a republican') makes no distinction between unionism and loyalism when he says that he has to 'work in a bomb-proof building because of threats from the unionist side'.
"Anyway, I would be interested to know if the views of Mr Douglas are truly representative of both the Alliance Party and David Ford?"
East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross also hit out at Mr Douglas's comments.
He said: "I am appalled to see a figure in the Alliance Party attempting to tie wider political unionism into attacks or intimidation against Alliance Party representatives.
"Unionists believe in support for the rule of law, they do not believe in law-breaking.
"In his letter in the Irish Times, Mr Douglas makes reference to Carrickfergus, which is in the heart of my constituency. He asserts that in Carrick, Alliance representatives have been to the forefront of confrontation with unionists over issues such as flags. That has not been my experience.
"It is frankly disgraceful that an Alliance Party functionary should misrepresent our town in this way. The people of Carrick deserve an apology from the Alliance Party.”
Alliance Party Executive Director Gerry Lynch responded to Sir Reg’s attack.
Mr Lynch said: “Almost every time the Ulster Unionist leader opens his mouth, he makes a laughing stock of the idea that his party has suddenly become non-sectarian by jumping into bed with David Cameron’s Tories.
“As far as the letter in the Irish Times goes, I personally would
not have used the word ‘agnostic’ to describe Alliance’s
constitutional position, but I don’t think it’s news to Reg or
anyone else that Alliance prioritises building a united community over arguing about constitutional niceties.
“It’s also a matter of pride to us that our members come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives - although Empey, leading a party that has not a single Catholic elected representative, might see that as a weakness.
“No matter how many metrosexual image consultants David Cameron sends over from London, the Ulster Unionist Party will always remain true to its principles; political short-sightedness, blinkered prejudice and an unrivalled capacity to shoot itself in the foot.”