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Tyson Fury row ex-BBC journalist Andy West missed Belfast so much he's back for good

By Nevin Farrell

Published 18/04/2016

Andy West is urging Northern Ireland to remain as part of the EU
Andy West is urging Northern Ireland to remain as part of the EU
Andy West during his time as a BBC Northern Ireland presenter

A gay journalist who left Belfast after saying he was ashamed to work for the BBC when it refused to axe Tyson Fury from the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist over his homophobic views is back in Northern Ireland.

Now former news reporter Andy West is hoping to land a knockout blow in the European Union referendum.

Englishman Mr West had been working for BBC Northern Ireland last year when he went online and strongly criticised his employer for refusing to remove controversial boxer Fury from the shortlist for the awards, which were staged in Belfast.

He posted a five-minute YouTube video to explain his reasons for objecting to the boxer's nomination. Fury made a series remarks that were widely condemned as homophobic and misogynistic.

After being suspended by the BBC West eventually left and said it was with sadness that he was departing across the Irish Sea. However, the Belfast Telegraph can now reveal he is back in the city and working as part of the Stronger In Europe campaign to ensure the UK stays in the EU.

He told this newspaper he had had to make "extremely difficult" decisions in his personal life recently, "and now Northern Ireland has to do the same thing".

"Leaving Northern Ireland was tough for me, but it seemed I just had to leave to take my next step. But I was wrong and now I'm back. Thank God," said Mr West last night.

"I may have grown up near London, but I've always said Belfast was an instant home for me. I missed it as soon as I left.

"The nightlife, the fun, the cab drivers making me laugh and making me think about things in a completely unexpected way, the feeling that you're living with people who really care about important stuff.

"The fact that everything - even big things - are 'wee'. The last few weeks back in London kept making me think about Belfast and how unusual it is.

"London drains the batteries. Belfast, somehow, recharges them. As the plane took off from City Airport in February I looked down and I felt a kick in my stomach. Now I'm back and I couldn't be happier. I'm not a journalist any more, or a BBC news presenter. Now, instead of reporting on issues I can muck in and be part of them."

Mr West said the EU referendum was extraordinarily important. He added: "I've had to make some extremely difficult decisions in my own life lately and now Northern Ireland has to do the same thing. It's tough, it can feel frightening and uncertain.

"The heart and the brain might be locked in a fight. But I know I'm going to fight for what's right. It's what I've always done and I'm ready to do it now. It's more important than ever.

"I'm looking forward to my new role. I get to help people make their voices heard in a debate that divides opinion. I've even tussled over the important questions with my mum.

"This referendum touches all generations and the answer we give to the EU will affect Northern Ireland more than any other part of the UK.

"We have to think of our borders, our farmers, our sciences, our fledgling businesses, our industry, our investors and our young people." And, using some boxing terminology, West added: "In Northern Ireland we're landing punches above our weight and now we're threatening to hold our arms behind our back.

"I'm saying Northern Ireland is 'Stronger In Europe'. And I know I am stronger in Belfast. It's good to be back."

West was often on Northern Ireland TV screens when he worked for the BBC. But he became deeply embroiled in the Fury row late last year.

In his hard-hitting YouTube video, he acknowledged that he "shouldn't have given my opinion on something that was current" but said that at the same time he "couldn't forget the little boy I was when I was nine or 10 at school and I was being bullied for being camp and being gay".

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