Alliance Party leader Naomi Long insists that she accidentally endorsed a message on social media which mocked Jamie Bryson on grounds of a minor speech impediment.
On Sunday Jamie Bryson engaged in a debate with Alliance members on Twitter, claiming her party is now adopting nationalist positions.
He tweeted: “Pan-nationalism = #StandardLong” to which Naomi Long responded that there are “cockatoos with a wider repertoire of phrases”.
Another Tweeter then interjected with a comical image of Gerry Adams, asking: “Did someone say Radical Republican Agenda?”
But a further poster emphasised the point with a further tweet, perhaps suggesting that the subtle jag against Mr Bryson had not been picked up.
“Wadical wepublican agenda??” he asked, in reference to Mr Bryson’s minor speech impediment.
Alliance leader Naomi Long was the only personm in the conversation to ‘Like’ the comment.
Mr Bryson said later: “I am not surprised to find Naomi Long ‘liking’ abusive tweets directed towards me.”
Last year after some people on Twitter labelled his son a ‘b*****d’ he also questioned her responses. At that time she said: “...Not your son’s fault you are his dad.”
Asked by Mr Bryson then if she was comparing the abuse of his son with his opposition to same sex marriage, she replied: “I’m saying don’t attack the personal lives of others and expect yours to be off limits...”
He said yesterday: “There appears to be a pattern whereby Naomi engages in a Twitter debate then a whole host of nationalist and liberal trolls pile in behind her.
“What is rather bizarre is you will find Naomi feels the need to ‘like’ every single tweet from them. This is water of a duck’s back to me, but I think a public apology would be appropriate, more so for the countless people who actually do have serious speech impediments.”
But Mrs Long said she had never seen the Tweet about his speech impediment.
“I didn’t like that Tweet,” she said. “I must have hit it when I was scrolling down. It is just a complete accident because I did not even see the tweet that I was supposed to have liked.
“There is no way I would do that. I would not have mocked a speech impediment. I am actually quite shocked that anyone would think that I would.”
She added: “I have deleted it now. It happens... It is just not who I am.”
But the British Stammering Association said Mrs Long should apologise to Mr Bryson in order to offer reassurance to others who may be seriously incapacitated with speech impediments.
BSA Chief Executive Jane Powell said: “It is pretty sad, really. Stammering is one of the few disabilities that it is still considered acceptable to ridicule.
“Stammering is a disability people can make fun of in a way that it is no longer acceptable to do for other disabilities, for example if someone is in a wheelchair or blind.”
There are quite a wide range of types of stammering, for some people it can be quite extreme but for others it is less so, she said.
“But either way some people think sufferers should just get a grip and speak properly.
“But it is pretty sad for persons to make jokes about when they won’t ridicule someone for their height or weight or skin colour.”
Stammering is often heredity and has a neurological cause, she said.
When told Mrs Long said she had accidentally like the remark, she added: “Then they should apologise for inadvertently causing offence.
“Having a speech impediment can literally cause people to stay indoors and choose work and employment that prevents them from mixing with others. It can have a dramatic impact on their lives.”
“People don’t yet see stammering as being an issue, but some individuals can have real difficulty in saying their own name or ordering a meal.”
She welcomed that Mrs Long ‘unliked’ the Tweet. The target of such ridicule may shrug it off, she accepts.
“But it sends out a signal that it is okay to bully people - and that others with stammers who are looking on need to watch out because their stammer is equally open to ridicule.
“This is why an apology is in order. How hard can that be?”