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Sexism row DUP man is registered blind

By Suzanne Breen

A DUP councillor who said he enjoyed meeting a council's chief executive on her bicycle is registered blind.

Graham Craig found himself at the centre of a sexism storm after his controversial remarks about Suzanne Wylie at a Belfast City Council meeting on Monday.

However, friends last night told the Belfast Telegraph that his comments had been "hugely misinterpreted", because Mr Craig cannot actually see the chief executive on her bike.

"Graham's words were chosen a little clumsily on the night, but the reaction has been completely over the top," stressed a friend of the DUP councillor.

"Graham is registered blind, so it is physically impossible for him to see Suzanne Wylie cycling by. He never said that he enjoyed 'the sight' of her on her bike. When she does meet him when she's cycling by, she sometimes stops and talks to him and that is what he was trying to refer to. He didn't mention 'seeing' her at all because he can't see her."

Councillor Craig, who defected from the Ulster Unionists to the DUP last year, made the comments during a debate about cycling on Monday night.

Speaking after PUP councillor John Kyle had spoken on the issue, Mr Craig said: "I'm not sure that it's pleasure, but he (councillor Kyle) whizzes past me the odd morning on his way into work as I'm walking down the greenway.

"And I often have the slightly greater pleasure of the chief executive whizzing past me on her bicycle in the morning which does quicken one's step slightly."

Chief executive Suzanne Wylie was sitting in the council chamber observing proceedings when Mr Craig made his controversial remarks. She did not comment on them.

However, they drew widespread condemnation from Alliance, SDLP and Green councillors, who demanded that Mr Craig withdraw them and apologise.

The DUP representative last night told the Belfast Telegraph that he regretted the entire incident.

"I apologised to Suzanne Wylie by email when I got home from the council meeting on Monday night," he said. "I met her privately this morning and apologised again face-to-face. As far as I am concerned, the matter is now closed."

The DUP said that Mr Craig's remarks had been "not appropriate".

"Councillor Craig has spoken to the chief executive privately to apologise and the DUP group leader on the council has also apologised for the comments. We are glad this action was taken quickly," a party spokesman added.

Mr Craig's comments caused some laughter in the chamber, but he was also asked to withdraw them by SDLP councillor Donal Lyons.

Mr Lyons urged the DUP man to "reflect on his comments and show even the basic level of respect to everyone who sits in this chamber".

DUP Lord Mayor Brian Kingston, who was sitting beside Ms Wylie, said he would have to agree on the question of personal comments and that "we should think before we speak and speak appropriately".

Video footage of the meeting shows Mr Craig smiling as he made the remarks.

Speaking after the meeting, Alliance councillor Michael Long described the remarks as "totally sexist and totally unacceptable".

Writing on Facebook, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston said she was dismayed at the "objectifying and sexualising of a female member of council".

Green councillor Georgina Milne also wrote online: "Such blatant sexism has no place in society but especially during the very public forum of the council meeting."

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