'Absolutely pathetic by Irish News and SDLP' - Emma Little-Pengelly to lodge complaint over SDLP criticism
DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly has said she will be lodging a complaint with the SDLP about "deeply offensive and hurtful remarks" made by party representatives about her decision to host a constituency surgery in a loyalist band hall.
SDLP councillor Dónal Lyons said that the use of Ballynafeigh Band Hall was not appropriate as it had been a "focal point for an annual march which celebrates the actions of two terrorists".
UDA men Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, who were shot dead by the Provisional IRA in 1994, were reportedly involved in a series of attacks during The Troubles including the killings of five Catholics at Sean Graham's bookmakers on the nearby Ormeau Road in 1992.
The march has previously been banned by the Parades Commission from several streets including the Ormeau Road, although loyalist paramilitary flags have been flown along the route and two photographers were last year threatened and told to leave the area.
Mr Lyons said: "The annual sprouting of UDA and UFF flags around the band hall, the blood and thunder approach of the bands in a quiet mixed area, and the harassment and intimidation of local residents and journalists has been a source of serious concern for the last number of years. Ms Pengelly must be aware of this."
In one of dozens of heated Twitter exchanges following The Irish News article on Saturday, the DUP MP, who won the seat from the former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell in June last year, said she has "always condemned all terrorism, repeatedly".
"SDLP has demonised the local unionist community on Ormeau enough. It needs to stop. Focus on your own surgeries and outreach," she wrote.
"Following SDLP attack by (South Belfast MLA) Claire Hanna’s husband re my local constituency surgery, deeply hurtful and offensive remarks have been made disgracefully by SDLP demonising the local Unionist community and Hall in Ballynafeigh - I will be making a complaint #RespectGoesBothWays #StopHate."
Ms Hanna said that she had always been "available through at least one local SDLP office and other means (none of which eulogise paramilitaries btw)."
Ms Little-Pengelly replied: "The band hall as a venue doesn't "eulogise" either."
Re-posting a previous photo of herself standing with leaflets during a visit to the Markets area, Ms Little-Pengelly wrote: "Absolutely pathetic by Irish News and SDLP - I do many local advice surgeries on regular basis in the heart of communities - funny how they didn’t cover this Markets and Ormeau one from before Christmas on their front page..."
The South Belfast MP did not respond when challenged by other social media users as to where and when she had hosted a constituency surgery in the predominantly nationalist area.
While she has offered house calls and appointments, it is understood that Ms Little-Pengelly has never held an advice clinic in the Markets or Lower Ormeau areas.
She tweeted: "I was offering house calls and put out 500 leaflets round area. Hoping to use a local centre for next one coming up in next few months."
Mr Lyons said the issue was not "about community background, it’s about clearly condemning terrorist groups".
He wrote: "What’s pathetic @little_pengelly is when challenged about your chosen venue’s links to a paramilitary parade you produce a photo of yourself standing in the Markets (from six months ago).
"So you condemn the Bratty/Elder parade then? Also stop trying to conflate the wider unionist community with the psychopaths in the UDA. That’s the very definition of demonising."
The DUP MP was also criticised for not referring to Mr Lyons by name in her posts, describing him as "Mr Claire Hanna" and "Claire Hanna's husband".