An MLA has said he did not overstep the mark when he called someone a “tool” on Twitter.
UUP man Doug Beattie said while his remark in response to the Twitter-user – who says they hail from his constituency – may have been “sharp”, people can always not engage with him if they are offended.
The comment stems from a heated argument on Twitter, which ranged over the subjects of paramilitarism and Brexit.
It began late on Sunday morning, when Mr Beattie – MLA for Upper Bann – posted a message online criticisng Old Bailey bomber-turned-Sinn Fein figure Martina Anderson.
The republican MEP had appeared on ITV defending the Brexit backstop arrangement that morning, and Mr Beattie wrote online: “Does this convicted bomber really speak for those who voted remain? As someone who voted remain she certainly doesn’t speak for me.”
Ms Anderson was given a life sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions, but released under the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Beattie meanwhile is a former captain in the Royal Irish Regiment, who had been posted to Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, east Africa and Iraq, and who has written about his experiences as a soldier – including bayoneting a man to death in Helmand.
Mr Beattie’s comment sparked a string of reactions going on for hours.
Fellow Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd, from Sinn Fein, quoted Mr Beattie’s own account of the bayonetting back to him, saying “you are hardly a pacifist yourself”.
Mr Beattie replied: “Absolutely & I don’t shy away from my past and wish I never had to do what I did. Yet Martina isn’t so repentant.”
Others then joined in, writing that Mr Beattie “doesn’t sound very repentant”, that he was claiming the “moral high ground” whilst “drenched in the blood of others”, and that “as an ex-British soldier causing terror in Afghanistan you don’t speak for me either Doug”.
The exchanges wore on, some sticking to Brexit, others dealing with violence.
At one point a Twitter user from Mr Beattie’s constituency, who describes themselves as a republican, wrote that Martina Anderson “speaks for 238,915 of the electorate that voted Sinn Fein at the last WM [Westminster] election on an abstentionist policy”.
“She’s not an MP you tool,” Mr Beattie replied.
He further said of the Twitter user that he can “rarely get a sensible conversation out of him” and so “keep my words simple when replying”.
Speaking to the News Letter about it today, Mr Beattie said: “I’d be open to criticism if people think I’ve overstepped the mark on anything I’ve said.
“But in the same respect will engage, and I do engage, with a wide range of people – many people who accuse me of pretty heinous things. But I continue to engage with them anyway.
“I’ve no issue with it at all. I don’t think I overstepped the mark. Bearing in mind people on this were accusing me of murder, multiple murders, accusing me of being a terrorist.
“And if I come back with a short, sharp riposte, which is one word, then so be it.
“If people get offended by that, they can block me, they can mute me, they can not engage with me. That’s absolutely up to them.”
It was put to him that it seemed to be just a single remark in this case, concerning the person conflating European elections and Westminster ones, which sparked his response.
Mr Beattie said he had a history with the Twitter-user in question, who is “continuously” making comments to him.
“Bearing in mind this man is anonymous, so we’ve no idea who he is,” he said.
“Thinks he can just come on and say whatever they want, and that’ll be that.
“We’ll do you know what? He got a short, sharp riposte.
“And that’s it done and dusted.”