Flags and murals bust-up must not tar Giro d'Italia
Let's focus on event: minister
A bitter row over flags and murals must not be allowed to sully one of the biggest events ever to take place in Northern Ireland.
The warning came as the First and Deputy First Ministers united to condemn the racist abuse directed at an Alliance MLA over comments she made regarding flags during the Giro d'Italia.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also expressed his support for Anna Lo, whose targeting by online bigots is the subject of a police probe.
She had suggested the removal of flags and sectarian murals during the race, a call which sparked a furious backlash from the DUP.
Locals are being asked to unite in pink for the most high-profile sporting event ever held here.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin urged that tribal differences be set aside for May's event. The Sinn Fein MLA said: "Our focus should be on the race, the athletes and the visitors we expect to welcome from around the world – not flags and murals. I would encourage all communities along the route to embrace the colour of the Giro d'Italia and 'think pink'."
Pink is the traditional colour of the event, as it is the colour of the jersey worn by the race leader.
There was widespread political condemnation yesterday of the abuse Ms Lo has suffered following her comments.
In a joint statement, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness called the insults disgraceful, saying: "Racial abuse is unacceptable on any level and these disgraceful and dehumanising comments are at complete odds with our vision of a shared and better future. We hope that the PSNI can find and prosecute those responsible."
DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who had been critical of Ms Lo's comments, said that "whatever she has said does not warrant and does not deserve racial abuse being directed towards her".
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood called the attacks "vile and despicable".
UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said: "These comments are damaging for our reputation." Naomi Long MP said her party colleague was making an important point about an ongoing problem.
A social media campaign of support was launched on Twitter, with the hashtag #IStandWithAnna.
STORY SO FAR
The staging of the Giro d'Italia has been embroiled in controversy amid rows over flags and murals. A police probe was launched after Alliance MLA Anna Lo was targeted by racists following comments she made suggesting the removal of sectarian emblems along the route. It is due to take place from May 9 to May 11.