A race row between the DUP and UUP deepened last night in the wake of complaints that Upper Bann MP David Simpson’s family had been targeted with abuse via social media during the election campaign.
Mr Simpson was elected to Westminster for the third time last week on 15,430 votes, a 2,264 majority over rival Jo-Anne Dobson (UUP).
Although the two parties had electoral pacts elsewhere, in Upper Bann they had a somewhat fractious campaign.
In his victory speech early on Friday morning, Mr Simpson stated that his “fantastic victory has caused a few sore heads up there [in the gallery]” and he then launched into an attack on “people who have conducted a despicable, disgraceful attack on my family and my three kids”.
He described it as a “despicable and personal” campaign against him and his adopted children on social media.
The Upper Bann man has previously made it public that three of his children are adopted from Paraguay and India.
His verbal onslaught was aimed at social media references to that aspect of his family, “the likes of which I have never encountered during 18 years in frontline politics”.
As the gallery heckled loudly, he went on: “They stooped to the gutter, but nothing can detract from this victory, and we’ll move on.”
However, in her subsequent speech Ms Dobson defended her integrity on the matter.
“I can honestly say that I can look the people of this constituency straight in the eye and tell them that we ran a purely positive campaign,” she said.
And yesterday UUP leader Mike Nesbitt published an open letter to Mr Simpson calling on him to clarify his claims.
He congratulated Mr Simpson on being re-elected as the MP for Upper Bann.
“I wish you well in the next mandate, serving the needs of all your constituents,” the UUP leader wrote.
But he then said that he had also written “to seek clarification regarding allegations I am aware you made on Thursday, May 7/Friday, May 8. Your allegations were made against members of the Ulster Unionist Party. I take those allegations most seriously.
“As I hope you are aware, I have in the past demonstrated zero tolerance to members of my party who act in unacceptable ways, whether it be expressions of homophobia or public displays of disloyalty.
“If any member of the Ulster Unionist Party has indeed acted in the manner you appear to allege, I assure you I shall not be found wanting in my reaction, but first I need the evidence.”
A DUP spokesman responded to the letter late last night, condemning the racist comments once again – but without blaming UUP members specifically.
“Throughout the campaign there were various comments made regarding Mr Simpson’s family’s background,” the DUP said.
“Such comments are very regrettable. The people gave their answer to those who made such despicable comments.
“The family will now consider how to take this matter forward.”