By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has said he is disappointed that remarks referring to him as a “traitor” were not challenged during a rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Co Armagh.
Before the event in Lurgan on Friday evening an election poster of Mr Beattie with a noose around his neck was also left on a bench.
Fellow unionist leaders Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Allister removed the poster from view, and both have condemned those who left the poster.
Rallies have been taking place across Northern Ireland outlining unionist and loyalist opposition to the post-Brexit protocol which sees additional checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
It is strongly opposed by unionists as a border in the Irish Sea.
UUP leader Mr Beattie has refused to attend the rallies, claiming that they are raising tensions.
During Friday’s event, one of the organisers of the rally, Roy Ferguson, described the Ulster Unionist leader as a “Lundy” and a “traitor”.
Speaking in Co Down on Monday, Mr Beattie said: “I am not a traitor, I am not a Lundy, I am the Ulster Unionist Party leader.
“I served my country, and I am disappointed that he was not challenged in the words that he said.”
Mr Beattie announced he would not attend the anti-protocol events after a security alert halted a peace-building event in north Belfast last month which Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had been addressing.
Since then, Mr Beattie’s constituency office in Portadown was attacked when the front window was smashed with a brick.
Mr Beattie said: “I have had really good messages from people saying don’t let it get you down.
“It hasn’t, I will not be distracted by bullies. I have faced worse.
“I hope there is something to be learnt by what happened on Friday, that people can see the dangers of moving in the wrong direction.
“I also have a concern that these rallies are not just about the protocol. They are turning into anti-Belfast agreement rallies, and I am not being associated with that.
“We have to be mindful of our words, we have to understand that our words can have reactions.”
TUV leader Mr Allister told the BBC’s Nolan Show that it was “wholly wrong” that Mr Beattie was described as a traitor.
He said: “I think that was wholly wrong. Lundy has a particular pernicious meaning in loyalist circles and there was nothing to justify calling Doug Beattie a Lundy or a traitor.
“If you watch the video you will see I give no support or applause to those comments, and I am very clear about that.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC: “I have much respect for Doug Beattie as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
“I count him as a friend, we have known each other for many years.”
Referring to the poster, he added: “I was just appalled that someone would think this was a clever or the right thing to do.
“It is not. It is offensive, it is harmful, it undermines the cause that these people might purport to support, and I don’t want to see any of that kind of behaviour.”