Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has condemned ‘stupid idiots’ who placed one of his election posters with a noose around his neck outside a rally against Northern Ireland protocol in Co Armagh.
The poster was removed from a bench in Lurgan on Friday night by fellow union leaders Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP and Jim Allister of the TUV.
Mr Beattie also denounced one of the speakers at the event who called him a ‘traitor’.
The UUP leader, who refused to attend the rallies saying they heightened tensions, told the PA news agency he would “not be intimidated, intimidated or distracted”.
A series of rallies have taken place across Northern Ireland highlighting unionist and loyalist opposition to the post-Brexit protocol which provides for additional checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain.
It is strongly contested by Unionists as the boundary in the Irish Sea.
Mr Beattie announced he would not attend the events after a security alert disrupted a peacebuilding event in North Belfast which Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney had addressed last month.
Since then his constituency office in Portadown has come under attack when the front window was shattered by a brick.
Reacting to the events of Friday night, Mr Beattie said: ‘It’s a poster and some insane idiots put a noose around my neck – they don’t reflect the vast majority of people who were there.
“A poster can go in the trash, a shop window can be replaced,
“My concern for the people of Northern Ireland remains. Nothing has changed.”
Mr Beattie, an army veteran who was decorated with the Military Cross, said he was disappointed to be called a “traitor” by a speaker at the event.
He said: “Therein lies my main disappointment, to be called a Lundy and a traitor when I clearly am not.
“I am a trade unionist who supports the union, who will do everything I can for the people of this union.
“I will not be intimidated, intimidated or distracted from the path which I believe is the right path for the people of Northern Ireland, so nothing has changed at all.”
He added: “Those who called me a Lundy and a traitor or put a two-knot noose around my neck on a poster are not the ones who stood by me in battle.
“These are not the people I served with who were among the finest men and women who ever wore the Queen’s uniform, for we literally bled blood, sweat and tears in the fire of action, in the service of our country.
“A minority are shouting the loudest and making a lot of noise as they seek to raise temperatures and create instability in Northern Ireland, but I think the silent majority in Northern Ireland will not want a lorry with these comments and will despair of the kind of leadership he represents for trade unionism.
Mr Beattie added: “I don’t blame the vast majority of people who were there.
“It’s the people who did it who are to blame, they’re the ones to answer the questions and we shouldn’t blame others when it was stupid individuals who did it.
“It (the poster) was taken down, it went in the trash, as far as I’m concerned, that’s it.”
Sir Jeffrey, Mr Allister, Loyalist Jamie Bryson addressed the event Friday night at Brownlow House.
It was during a speech by one of the organizers of the event, Roy Ferguson, that Mr. Beattie was called a “traitor”.
Mr Allister said he removed Mr Beattie’s poster from view because he felt his presentation, whether intentional or inadvertent, was “totally inappropriate”.
He said that if anyone placed it to “convey malevolence”, that “they were idiots”.
Sir Jeffrey told the rally his message at the event was of trade unionists working together.
“We have to stay united. We must unite against protocol,” he said.
“Trade unions have every right to express their unequivocal opposition to the protocol publicly and peacefully.
“The protocol has undemocratically altered the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and delivered a hammer blow to prosperity in every corner of our province.
“Not a single union representative supports the Irish Sea boundary.”
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill said: ‘There is absolutely no place in our politics or our community for such threats against public officials or anyone else.
“Politicians involved in these anti-Good Friday Agreement and anti-protocol rallies should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that may inflame tensions and lead to a deterioration of the political situation.”