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Female politicians rap Sammy Wilson over remarks on breastfeeding MPs

By Linda Stewart

Published 23/07/2016

Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson

Former Stormont minister Michelle Gildernew says she regrets not breastfeeding her children in the Assembly debating chamber, as she was "talked out of it".

The Sinn Fein MLA, a staunch advocate for breastfeeding, condemned comments made yesterday by DUP MP Sammy Wilson.

He described women who want to breastfeed in the House of Commons as "exhibitionists", saying the practice should be done in private as it would attract voyeurs.

Ms Gildernew said she had breastfed her baby Aoise during a Stormont Executive meeting.

"It was only when I took her off and put her on my shoulder that they realised I was doing it," she said.

The former Agriculture Minsiter said women need to have positive role models and should be able to feed their babies wherever they wish.

"I regret not doing it in the chamber. I was talked out of it and I'm sorry I was," she said.

"It's the most natural thing in the world and the best thing for a baby. I should have done that to remove the stigma."

Pregnant Alliance councillor Sian O'Neill vowed to breastfeed in Belfast City Council chamber if needed.

"Both terms used by Sammy Wilson sexualise a natural activity at a time when we should be doing all we can to encourage more women into politics," she said.

"As a mother-to-be, his comments completely attacked my natural rights, a right I plan on utilising to the fullest by breastfeeding my baby in the council chamber if the need arises.

"I would urge him to apologise as soon as possible for the remarks and would further question what Arlene Foster thinks of his attempts to block a working mother balancing political and family life."

Last night the DUP said Mr Wilson had given a personal view and the party had not yet read the independent review that had advised MPs be allowed to breastfeed in the House of Commons chamber to set an example to the rest of society.

"We recognise that the benefits of breastfeeding are well established, with a positive impact on both babies and mothers. It is vital we continue to promote breastfeeding and ensure adequate public awareness of its benefits," a spokesman said.

Speaking on the Nolan show on Radio Ulster, Mr Wilson said: "If it can be done privately, it should be done privately. I don't believe an inability to breastfeed in the House of Commons is something that puts women off becoming MPs," he said.

UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: "Breastfeeding is natural and should be encouraged and facilitated where practicable."

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