Doug Beattie to continue as Ulster Unionist leader after ‘horrific’ tweets

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<span>Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA</span>
Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Leader wins party support after facing accusations of misogyny and racism over historical social media posts

The leader of the Ulster Unionist party has survived a major political crisis after he won the support of the party in the face of a row over historical social media posts that had been called misogynistic and racist.

The UUP deputy leader and chief whip, Robbie Butler, confirmed Doug Beattie had received the support of the party officers and Member of the Legislative Assembly group during meetings on Tuesday.

In a statement he said: “I would like to report to you that he has the support of the MLA group and indeed the party officers and that is not to detract from the seriousness or how serious the party leader takes the incidents that happened and those things which are a matter of public record at this time.

“What I would like to do is to pay tribute to the party leader for the manner in which he has responded and how serious he takes this issue and these events and those conversations I know he will be open to over this next while to redress the hurt that has been caused.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Beattie said he was “deeply ashamed” about the “horrific” tweets that had emerged over the past 72 hours and said he would consult his colleagues over whether he should step down.

The controversy started at the weekend, when he posted what he said was a joke involving the DUP Stormont minister Edwin Poots, his wife and a brothel.

Poots said on Saturday the tweet was “incredibly hurtful”, and Beattie apologised and deleted it the following day. Since then, other messages dating back more than 10 years emerged, including comments about women, Muslims and Travellers.

In one, Beattie posted an image of a woman with two Christmas pudding designs on her sweater, saying: “Don’t be wearing a jumper like this then complain when I stare at your boobs.”

Another included a reference to English football supporters dressing in crusader costumes and referenced Muslims being “victims”.

The political storm is a significant setback to the UUP, which is in contention to seriously dent the Democratic Unionist party as the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland in the assembly elections on 5 May.

A former soldier with a distinguished record, he had taken over in May and saw the party’s political popularity surge among disfranchised unionists after repositioning it as a more progressive and socially liberal party than its rival.

A survey at the weekend showed Sinn Féin in pole position to become the biggest single party at 25%, the DUP down one point at 17% and the UUP at 14%.

Beattie, 56, admitted to the BBC’s Nolan Show that the tweets are “pretty horrific, pretty horrendous”.

He said the tweets demonstrated a “clear failing in myself, I have to own up to that” and asked people to “look at me [as] the person I am now and maybe not judge me from 10 years ago”.

“I am deeply ashamed, deeply embarrassed by it. I can apologise day and night about this, it won’t change what I did 10 years ago,” he said.

“I think people can change. I want to effect change in Northern Ireland. I want to effect change in people and some of that change is within ourselves. I am not the person portrayed in these tweets today. I am not going to give any excuses for it.”

He denied he was misogynistic or racist, and in a personal statement on Monday said he had striven to advocate for women ever since he entered politics.

The SDLP deputy leader, Nichola Mallon, said his comments were not funny. “Those who shamelessly and loosely disrespect women only hold us back from equality. These comments are not funny. They are offensive and misogynistic and deserve condemnation,” she said.

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