Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has condemned “mindless idiots” who posted one of his election posters with a noose around the neck outside a rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Co Armagh.
The poster was removed from a bench in Lurgan on Friday evening by fellow unionist leaders Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP and Jim Allister of the TUV.
Mr Beattie, who has refused to attend the rallies claiming that they are raising tensions, told the PA news agency he would “not be bullied, intimidated or distracted”.
A series of 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.
Mr Beattie announced he would not attend the events after a security alert halted a peace-building event in north Belfast which Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney had been addressing last month.
Since then, his constituency office in Portadown was attacked when the front window was smashed by a brick.
Reacting to Friday night’s events, Mr Beattie said: “It is a poster and some mindless idiots have put a noose around my neck on it – they are not reflective of the vast majority of people who were there.
“A poster can go in the bin, a window can be replaced,
“My concern for the people of Northern Ireland remains. Nothing has changed.”
Mr Beattie, an Army veteran who has been decorated with the Military Cross, claimed that he was branded a “traitor” at the event.
He said: “That is where my main disappointment is, in being called a Lundy and a traitor when I’m clearly not.
“I am a unionist who supports the union, who will do everything I possibly can for the people of that union.”
He added: “I will neither be bullied nor intimidated nor distracted from the path that I believe is the right path for the people of Northern Ireland, so nothing has changed whatsoever.
“I don’t blame the vast majority of people who were there.
“The people who did it are the ones to blame, they are the ones who have to answer the questions and we should not lay blame at the feet of others when it was mindless individuals who did it.
“It was taken down, it went in the bin, as far as I am concerned that it is.”
Sir Jeffrey, Mr Allister and loyalist Jamie Bryson addressed the event on Friday evening at Brownlow House.
Mr Allister said he removed the poster of Mr Beattie from view because he felt its presentation, whether intentional or inadvertent, was “entirely inappropriate”.
He said that if someone placed it to “convey malevolence”, that “they were idiots”.
Sir Jeffrey told the rally that his message to the event was one of unionists working together.
“We must stand united. We must stand as one in opposition to the protocol,” he said.
“Unionism is fully entitled to express its unequivocal opposition to the protocol in a public and peaceful way.
“The protocol has undemocratically altered Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and dealt a hammer blow to prosperity in all corners of our province.
“Not a single unionist representative supports the Irish Sea border.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.