It seems like the only unionists backing the Maze peace centre are “the DUP and the UDA”, Mike Nesbitt has said, as the fallout from Jimmy Spratt’s “nutters” gaffe continues.
The UUP leader said that it was up to others – including the Orange Order, Troubles victims and “thousands” of others – who have opposed the Maze plan to decide if they accepted Mr Spratt’s apology. Mr Nesbitt told BBC Radio Ulster’s Inside Politics programme that “if they are happy then we could move on”.
Mr Spratt was forced to apologise for using the term about opponents of the Maze centre after initially denying that he had used the term and threatening legal action against both Mr Nesbitt and then the News Letter.
In a statement issued by the DUP press office on Thursday night on behalf of Mr Spratt, the South Belfast MLA apologised “for any hurt caused to those who believed my comments were directed at them”.
As political rivals made hay out of Mr Spratt’s comment, last night the TUV served peanuts at a dinner in Coleraine while plans are under way for the printing of ‘nutters’ merchandise for Maze opponents.
And Mr Spratt could face an Assembly investigation for how he rounded on Mr Nesbitt, the chairman of the OFMDFM committee, for pulling him up on his comments. Mr Spratt angrily claimed that Mr Nesbitt was “spinning” and demanded an apology.
He told Mr Nesbitt: “If you have any guts at all, you will apologise for not independently chairing the meeting at that point.”
The code of conduct for MLAs states: “Members must treat other Members ... with courtesy and respect” and adds that while there can be “robust” exchanges of opinion, those should “not extend to individuals being subjected to unreasonable and excessive personal attack”.
Last night a victim of the IRA who has opposed the Maze, Ann Travers, said that she found Mr Spratt’s comment “quite amusing”.
“Sometimes we can all say things and then regret it – he’s apologised. On Facebook last night I said ‘I’m officially a nutter’ and 30 people agreed.”
Ms Travers said that she believed a peace centre was a “fabulous idea” for Northern Ireland but said the Maze was the wrong site: “Asking victims to go to a prison where people who may have been their abusers isn’t a good idea. Maybe we should have it on a neutral site where all are equal.”
Meanwhile, a Castlereagh councillor has called for the DUP and UUP to reverse their opposition to recording council meetings at the council on which Mr Spratt sits.
Alliance’s Michael Long claimed that Mr Spratt had hurled “abusive language” which he said was much worse than “nutters” across the chamber at him.
Mr Long said that Mr Spratt had only apologised for his “nutters” comment after it was proven by an audio recording and called on the council to record meetings.