Belfast Telegraph

Listen: Church of Ireland minister's explosive jibe over Michelle O'Neill blonde row

Foster and O'Neill's 'blonde' row reignited after cleric's comments about hair dye in bombs

By Allan Preston

A Church of Ireland minister has become embroiled in the 'blondegate' political row between the DUP and Sinn Fein after comments made at a public meeting.

Rev Mark Watson, the rector of Trory and Killadeas in Fermanagh, sparked a backlash after comments he made in Enniskillen Orange hall on Saturday at an event supporting the re-election of Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was also in attendance, although Mr Elliott had yet to arrive.

Mrs Foster caused controversy when she referred to Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill as "blonde", although she insisted it was meant as a compliment.

Rev Watson was quoted in the Impartial Reporter as saying: "Our friend the First Minister mentioned the blondes, I am glad they are blondes because it means the hydrogen peroxide that's dying the hair isn't going into creamery cans to make explosives."

He then joked: "I hope there are no Press about or I've just lost my job."

The newspaper report said the comments caused laughter.

The remarks were slammed as "sexist and outrageous" by Sinn Fein MLA Jemma Dolan, who called for Mr Elliott and Mrs Foster to distance themselves from the comments.

"The minister referred to Arlene Foster's disgraceful comments last week but also made an extraordinary and outrageous comment about 'hydrogen peroxide that's dying the hair isn't going into creamery cans to make explosives'," she said.

"Tom Elliott and Arlene Foster were both at this event. I'm calling on them to dissociate themselves immediately from this sexist, disrespectful and nasty commentary."

The UUP and the DUP were both contacted for a comment on the matter but did not respond.

Rev Watson was also contacted by Sunday Life, but refused to comment, saying that he had "said enough".

The row began more than a week ago when Mrs Foster described Mrs O'Neill as "blonde" while playing a word association game during an interview with the Sunday Independent newspaper.

Asked to expand, Mrs Foster said: "Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well; she always is - you know - her appearance is always the same."

Critics quickly labelled the comments sexist, but Mrs Foster has since insisted she was not trying to be insulting.

"They (the remarks) were meant as a compliment," she told the BBC. "If they have been taken any other way, that is a matter for people who have taken them the other way."

She added the response showed more "about Sinn Fein than it does about me".

But Mrs O'Neill said the comments were unacceptable and irresponsible. "As political leaders we have a duty and a responsibility to lead by example," she said.

"There is a clear need for more women in public life, and there is an onus on women in political leadership to empower women.

"There can be absolutely no room in our society for sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia or any form of discrimination."

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