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Spratt sorry for 'nutters' remark

Published 28/06/2013

John Manley Political Reporter




THE DUP's Jimmy Spratt last night issued an apology for his "nutters" remark - though who exactly he was saying sorry to is unclear.

The South Belfast MLA issued a statement after the official assembly record confirmed he referred to opponents of the Maze-Long Kesh conflict resolution centre as "nutters".

Mr Spratt had refuted the allegation that he made the remark during a Stormont committee hearing on Wednesday. He demanded that Ulster Unionist leader and committee chair Mike Nesbitt apologise for suggesting the word was used.

But according to Hansard, the official record of assembly proceedings, the South Belfast MLA used the phrase "Except the nutters" as an interjection in an exchange between fellow DUP assembly member Brenda Hale and Mr Nesbitt.

Given Mr Spratt's protestations when accused, confirmation of the comment during the Committee for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister hearing will cause deep embarrassment for both the DUP

MLA and his party.

The north's largest unionist party is facing criticism over its support for a conflict resolution centre from political rivals and more than a dozen victims groups.

Mr Spratt said last night he never meant to offend "genuine people who have expressed concerns" about the Maze-Long Kesh project.

He said he'd been subjected to a "great deal of personal abuse" from opponents of the centre.

"As someone who served for many years in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and lost many close friends to terrorists I find such comments particularly personally hurtful," he said.

"I attempted to make it clear at the time that my remark was not directed at any groups or individual. However, I apologise sincerely for any hurt caused to those who believed my comments were directed at them."

Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt refused to gloat, despite being vindicated by the assembly record.

"Mr Spratt now knows what he has to do," he said.

"The ball is in his court."

It remains unclear whether Mr Nesbitt is seeking a public apology from Mr Spratt, who during Wednesday's exchanges warned the Ulster Unionist leader to be "very, very careful" about what he said.

Mr Spratt's fellow Castlereagh councillor Michael Long, who is married to Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long, said the term "nutters" was tame in comparison to the names the double-jobbing DUP representative had called him.

The Alliance councillor said in recent months Mr Spratt had called him "scum", "bigot" and "liar".

"The Alliance group recently proposed that meetings at Castlereagh would be recorded to help provide more transparency with regards to the language used but the DUP and UUP opposed this measure to increase scrutiny and encourage more constructive debates," Mr Long said.

A DUP spokesman declined to comment on Mr Long's claim.

■ ROW: Jimmy Spratt, left, had initially refuted Mike Nesbitt's allegation that he referred to opponents of the Maze-Long Kesh conflict resolution centre as 'nutters'