Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson has accused the Alliance Party of “losing the run of themselves” after they refused to appear alongside him at a NI Affairs Committee meeting.
Mr Bryson has been listed as a witness to appear on Wednesday, February 21, for the session entitled ‘Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit’.
The NI Affairs Committee has been working to gather a range of opinion from people of differing backgrounds across Northern Ireland.
Alliance leader Naomi Long was invited to attend the oral evidence session next week, along with Mr Bryson, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and former justice minister Claire Sugden.
But Mrs Long has told the committee she will not be attending, claiming that Mr Bryson’s presence would “diminish the value” of the inquiry.
Mr Bryson, who is listed as appearing as a representative of the group Unionist Voice Policy Studies (UVPS), said Alliance’s withdrawal demonstrates “a severe lack of tolerance for others’ viewpoints”.
“The Alliance Party were not even scheduled to attend the same meeting. That is the lunacy of their petulant actions,” he added.
UVPS describes itself as a “grassroots unionist/loyalist think tank”.
Mr Bryson added: “The contrived controversy around me representing the group is a fig leaf. The real issue here is an intolerance of differing viewpoints and the fury that grassroots loyalism would dare to engage in an open inquiry.”
Mr Bryson described the move by Alliance as “entirely illogical”, highlighting that he was part of a group invited to give evidence to the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT), of which Alliance are part.
“They raised no objection and didn’t feel the integrity of that committee, of which they are part, was compromised,” he added.
In a letter to committee chairman Andrew Murrison, Mrs Long said she was “genuinely at a loss” as to why the committee had chosen to invite Mr Bryson.
The Alliance leader said that by inviting the loyalist campaigner to give evidence, the committee risked “opening itself up to public ridicule”.
She added: “What is beyond dispute is that he is a relentless self-publicist, an agitator and a figure of considerable ridicule in Northern Ireland.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie has said Alliance were “wrong” to withdraw from an appearance at the committee, adding that he could not understand the rational behind their decision.
He added: “Jamie Bryson does not represent my view of unionism and I would disagree with much of what he says. But he has an opinion, he made a submission that was accepted, and therefore his opinion should be heard.
“If we censored members of Sinn Fein, or the PUP or anyone else we would be accused – and no doubt by Alliance - of trying to stifle opinions no matter how difficult they are to hear. Yet Jamie Bryson is somehow seen as fair game and I find this unfair.”