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McDonnell storms out of meeting over 'insult' to John Hume by Labour's Hoey

By Noel McAdam

Published 08/03/2016

Alasdair McDonnell
Alasdair McDonnell

Former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has stormed out of a meeting at Stormont after accusing a Labour MP of causing offence.

The MP for South Belfast took exception to a short laugh from Kate Hoey during a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which was examining how Northern Ireland could be impacted if the UK left the European Union.

While talking about the peace process, new SDLP leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute to John Hume.

He said Mr Hume - who led the SDLP through the peace process and served as an MEP from 1979 to 2004 - had taken his inspiration from Europe.

After Ms Hoey, who is originally from Northern Ireland, appeared to laugh, Mr Eastwood retorted: "You might laugh Kate, but it's true."

Ms Hoey said: "I am not laughing at John Hume, he did a good job. I think John Hume played an amazing part in all that. My point was in terms of the EU relationship."

Seconds later Mr O'Donnell was heard to tell the committee chairman: "I'm leaving now. You'll have to control that now, that's not acceptable, that's not acceptable."

The MP collected his papers together before knocking his chair over as he departed.

Moments later he returned to pick his chair up - before leaving again.

Meanwhile, tensions within unionism over the EU referendum have deepened as the two main parties face in opposite directions.

The DUP insisted staying in the EU would be a calamity after its main rival the UUP stressed voting to stay made sense.

The row between the parties intensified yesterday as the DUP argued the Republic would become "quite isolated" if the UK departed from the EU, while the UUP said the issue of the border remained central.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson told the NI Affairs Committee that the Irish Government had benefited through its relationship with the UK in Brussels and argued: "They are afraid of us leaving because they will lose their big friend in Europe.

"Their concern is more to do with losing their big mate in a big pool and that they will become quite isolated should we choose to leave." He also attacked critics of the Brexit who have warned it could jeopardise the peace process.

"I think that touches to a base level of politics, of concern and fear which I think is not suitable nor of a credit to anyone who should raise those," he argued.

But UUP leader Mike Nesbitt told the committee the issue of the border with the Republic was central to his party's vote to stay in stance, which was agreed at a special meeting of its executive last Saturday.

"It's the question of what happens to our land border in the event of Brexit and whether or not we face the return of the type of arrangements we had in the 1970s and 1980s in particular," he said.

And he added: "We cannot ignore the existential threat to the UK should there be an overall vote for Brexit, but with Scotland voting to remain in the EU.

"In such circumstances, a second independence referendum would be almost inevitable, with serious consequences for Northern Ireland."

Mr Nesbitt also argued Northern Ireland was a net beneficiary in economic terms within the EU and leaving would create severe difficulties and uncertainty for farmers, the voluntary and community sector, industry and the province's two universities.

However, Mr Nesbitt said there was "no doubt that the EU needs reform... and a return to the founding principle of free trade, not greater political union".

Belfast Telegraph

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