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Backlash at Zoe Red Hand apology

Unionist fury over BBC's retraction

By Ben Lowry

Published 22/01/2005

A Scottish academic came under fire today for instigating the Red Hand of Ulster row surrounding Blue Peter's ex-Miss Northern Ireland presenter Zoe Salmon.

A Scottish academic came under fire today for instigating the Red Hand of Ulster row surrounding Blue Peter's ex-Miss Northern Ireland presenter Zoe Salmon.

The BBC children's programme was lambasted by unionist politicians today after apologising for on-air comments by the former beauty queen, who suggested earlier this month that the symbol would make a good choice in a competition for a new airline tailfin design.

A prominent nationalist politician also played down the controversy, but criticised the 24-year-old model for later selecting a design of a map of Ireland, covered in the Union Flag, as another of her favourites.

Head of Blue Peter Anne Gilchrist issued an apology to David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde University, who complained to the BBC and said the Red Hand had been misappropriated like the swastika.

Patsy McGlone, SDLP Assembly member for Mid Ulster, today said: "I would not have been that upset about the reference to the Red Hand on its own.

"The most offensive bit for me would be the Union Jack superimposed on the image of Ireland. Zoe Salmon should have been more than aware of the sensitivity surrounding that."

UUP Assembly member Michael Copeland described the Blue Peter apology as "political correctness gone mad".

"The Red Hand appears in the symbolism of both the unionist and nationalist communities."

Former UUP Lord Mayor of Belfast Jim Rodgers said: "We must not allow the Red Hand to be surrendered to paramilitaries.

"If you read carefully what the head of Blue Peter has said, she points out that the Red Hand is the official symbol of Ulster which consists of nine counties.

"I understand that this programme, which has millions of viewers, got four complaints."

On the website Slugger O'Toole, which invites comment on Northern Ireland matters, the BBC apology came under fire from a wide range of contributors. Some pointed out that the Red Hand is used by Tyrone GAA. One wrote: "My mother wore a Red Hand on her Irish dancing costume back in the 40s."

In the letter of apology, Ms Gilchrist wrote: "We can assure you that the symbol was used in good faith and it certainly wasn't our intention to be provocative or promote sectarianism. The reason we chose to use the Red Hand was because it is the official symbol of the province of Ulster."

She added: "We take all complaints seriously and after we received yours we did some detailed investigation into it, the result of which is that we realise that the context in which we were referring to the Red Hand was inappropriate and mistaken. We'd like to apologise for any upset or concern we have caused."

Zoe and her family could not be contacted for comment today, nor could Professor Miller.

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