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Sinn Fein anger at Arlene Foster 'blonde' remark sparks DUP backlash

By Noel McAdam

The DUP has escalated the "sexism" row with Sinn Fein after Arlene Foster described Michelle O'Neill as an attractive blonde.

After rejecting Sinn Fein's demand for an apology, the DUP slammed the complaint as "nonsense" and questioned Sinn Fein's interest in women's rights. Gregory Campbell suggested that if Sinn Fein is so interested in women's sensitivities then they should start with Disappeared victim Jean McConville and the widow of Patsy Gillespie.

Read More: SF slam Foster's 'disgraceful, sexist' description of  O'Neill

  Foster caught up in sexism row

Mrs McConville, a mother of 10, was abducted from her west Belfast home in November, 1972, and shot dead by the IRA. Her body was eventually found on a beach in Co Louth in 2003.

In October, 1990, Gillespie, a civilian cook in a Londonderry Army base, was strapped into a van loaded with explosives and forced to drive to Coshquin checkpoint on the Donegal border where the bomb was detonated by remote control.

Outgoing East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell said on Twitter: "More nonsense being peddled about Arlene's ref to Michelle O'Neill being 'blonde' ?"

Sammy Wilson also hit back at Sinn Fein's criticism of Mrs Foster, and he also took a swipe at the party's Stormont leader.

He said: "Michelle O'Neill is blonde, unless she's dyed her hair since the last time I'd the misfortune to see her on TV."

He described the row as a "smokescreen" with Sinn Fein attempting to play the victim and going "out of their way to find grievance where no grievance was meant".

"If it had been me, I would have been making some far more derogatory comments about the way she's handled the job since she took over," he said.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford also posted social media to mock Sinn Fein, describing the party as over-sensitive and referring to its members as "snow flakes".

The South Belfast Assembly man shared a photo of his blonde children on Twitter jokingly captioned: "Blondies for Arlene!".

However, Mrs O'Neill responded to the remarks last night. She said: "As political leaders we have a duty and a responsibility to lead by example.

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

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

She added: "There is no right or wrong way to look and women are in positions of leadership because we belong, representing everyone equally."

There was no further comment from Mrs Foster, however, who sparked outrage from Sinn Fein in an interview with the Sunday Independent when she was pressed to give a one-word response on Mrs O'Neill.

"I don't want to be sexist and I am not going to be sexist because I can't..." Mrs Foster told the interviewer, who then said: "Ah go on, it's not sexist if it's true."

"Blonde," said Mrs Foster. Asked to expand, she went on: "Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she always is - you know - her appearance is always 'the same'. You never see her without her make-up. You never see her without her hair (looking) perfect."

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