Politicians urged to be careful after latest Twitter row

Senior UK and Irish government ministers have urged politicians to be careful about the language they use in the wake of the latest Twitter row between elected representatives in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney both stressed the need for moderation after being asked for their reaction to a spat triggered by Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey branding Northern Ireland a “putrid little statelet”.

When pressed for her response in the House of Commons by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, Mrs Bradley said: “I think what this matter shows is it is incumbent on everyone in public life to think very carefully about the words they use in public and the way that may be interpreted.”

Mr Coveney was also asked about the furore during a visit to a police training college in Belfast.

The tanaiste replied: “I think we need to be very careful. I have learned that too.”

Unionists have described Mr Maskey’s remarks as “offensive”, further accusing the West Belfast MLA of trying to “justify terrorism”.

But Mr Maskey has claimed the unionist outrage is contrived.

In the contentious Twitter comment, Mr Maskey said: “Unfortunately it took more than the CRA (civil rights association) to secure rights in the putrid little statelet NI.”

Critics claim Mr Maskey was making reference to the IRA’s campaign of violence.

Raising the issue with Mrs Bradley in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Dodds said: “The sheer disgrace, the irony, the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein preaching rights and equality while justifying murder and disrespecting the state of Northern Ireland, would she agree that this sort of attitude must stop.

“If respect is to mean anything it has to mean respect by Sinn Fein toward unionists and those who believe in the Union.”

The row is the latest controversy involving politicians’ use of social media.

Last month Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff resigned as West Tyrone MP after posting a video of himself posing with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.

The DUP’s Christopher Stalford and Doug Beattie of the UUP were also criticised for retweeting a controversial cartoon sketch of the Kingsmill attack.

On Saturday, Sinn Fein’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly apologised after videos of him removing a wheel clamp in Belfast city centre appeared on social media.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Maskey said: “Faux outrage by some unionists at my comments ignore the facts that a wide range of people from the Civil Rights Association right through to progressive unionists opposed this sectarian discrimination and demanded civil and human rights for all.”

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