THE Traditional Unionist Voice party has defended one of its councillors after it was revealed she made sectarian comments about Catholics on Facebook.
Anger erupted earlier this week after it emerged that Jolene Bunting had referred to “Catholic b*******” in a message posted online, with hundreds calling for her to be sacked.
But her party has accused people of over-reacting to something that is “not a significant issue”.
It claimed the “embarrassing” remarks, posted while Ms Bunting was still a teenager, were “no different” to the kinds of things said by most 18-year-olds on social media websites.
The TUV’s defence of Ms Bunting, who became the party’s first Belfast councillor last week, came hours after the 21-year-old apologised for her comments but said she did not regret their content.
On the day after St Patrick's Day in 2011, she wrote: "I'm so sick of the poor Catholic b******* they make me sick.
"I wish they would just go down to Ireland and then they can fly their flags and change the street signs down there.
"It's about time they realised that there are six counties attached to their beloved Ireland that belongs to Britain and always will!"
Then in February 2012, as St Patrick’s Day approached again, Ms Bunting took to Facebook to encourage people to complain to Asda because it was selling cards with "a big f****** tri colour on them."
Ms Bunting has said she didn’t regret what she said but accepted she expressed her views in the wrong way.
“I've matured since then and I realise now that ranting on Facebook isn't going to change anything. The council chamber is where I will be voicing my concerns," she told The Belfast Telegraph.
"I don't support foreign flags being flown in the streets of our city and I object to the changing of our street names. That's the mandate I was elected on by a community frustrated by the constant pandering to Sinn Fein/IRA."
The newly-elected councillor for the Court ward added: "I do want to apologise for the innocent people in the Court ward who I offended by using the word Catholic when I meant republicans.
"At the time I was young and not a member of the TUV and I know that since then I have matured in my knowledge and understanding."
Ms Bunting’s refusal to apologise fully was met with more anger, with 1050 people signing a petition calling for her to be sacked.
But despite the mounting pressure, the TUV said it would not call for her to withdraw the remarks.
Sammy Morrison, the party’s press spokesperson, told The Irish Post he was “satisfied” with her response to The Belfast Telegraph.
“Jolene’s comments are no different from comments I am sure I could dig up from your teenage child’s Facebook profile if I looked hard enough,” he said.
Mr Morrison added that he thought most teenagers have made “embarrassing” comments online and that Ms Bunting’s remarks should be viewed as “immature”.
Asked if he thought it was fair for people to think Ms Bunting’s comments were more than “embarrassing”, he said: “I do not regard this as a significant issue because this was a comment made by a teenager. I do not concede that it is significant.”
Mr Morrison declined to say whether the TUV would have thought twice about allowing Ms Bunting to stand as one of its candidates if it knew about the comments before she joined the party.