Police have charged a Belfast city councillor with “grossly offensive communication” after Facebook comments she made about a planned republican parade in County Tyrone.
Ruth Patterson, a DUP councillor, was commenting on a post about a planned republican rally in Castlederg, County Tyrone, commemorating the deaths 30 years ago of two IRA men blown up by a bomb which they intended to plant in the town.
After one user commented about a fictional attack on the parade, in which Sinn Féin members were killed, Patterson wrote: “We would have done a great service to Northern Ireland and the world.” She later apologised, saying: "I recognise that my careless comments fall short of the standards expected of anyone holding a responsible post. I deeply and sincerely apologise.“
The 57-year-old was arrested on Friday morning and released from a south Belfast police station ofter 10pm. She is due to appear in court to answer the charge on 22 August.
The DUP has criticised the arrest, describing it as “sensationalist”, and a crowd of about 30 supporters gathered outside the police station while she was being questioned, with signs calling for her release.
In a statement, the party said: “Councillor Ruth Patterson has apologised for her remarks, accepted they were well below the standard expected of a public representative and not in keeping with the DUP's values and ethos.
“The party officers also emphasised the unacceptable nature of these stupid and obnoxious comments and will conclude its own internal investigations.
“We fail to understand why the police chose to conduct a sensationalist arrest rather than contact Ruth and ask her to attend an Article 10 voluntary interview. This is a matter we will be raising with the chief constable.”
Police said that when a report is made to them “regarding information posted on social media sites, officers will investigate and where a criminal offence has occurred, appropriate action will be taken”.
Earlier on Friday, the police said the public order inquiry team had “arrested a 57-year-old female in relation to offences concerning the sending of grossly offensive communications and other serious criminal offences in relation to intimidation and encouraging criminal acts”.
Speaking before the arrest, Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff said the comments made by Mrs Patterson were “shocking”.
He said: “This type of talk is totally irresponsible and highly dangerous.
“As has been shown in the past, comments made by political representatives and others can not only inflame a situation, but actually motivate people to act on their words.”