Row after race abuse staff praised
A former candidate for a hardline Northern Ireland unionist party has sparked a race row after praising civil servants sacked for abusing non-nationals.
Ann Cooper, who lost a council by-election while standing for the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) earlier this year, defended Revenue and Customs staff accused of withholding benefits payments to people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The seven staff, plus two others who quit when an investigation was launched, were based at a contact centre in Belfast, but despite the widespread condemnation of the case, Ms Cooper used Twitter to defend those involved.
Campaigners for minority rights condemned her comments, after she wrote: "Well done lads. Sorry you got caught. You deserve a medal. We need more like you."
She has used Twitter and a blog to voice her views on racial issues over a lengthy period.
Defending her stance, she said: "This is a democracy and people are entitled to have opinions and express them," she told the BBC. "People in this country are sick of ethnic minorities coming here and getting things ahead of us."
Ms Cooper's internet sites previously carried a disclaimer distancing her views from the TUV.
She confirmed she had recently left the party and said she did not wish to embarrass its leader, Jim Allister.
A TUV spokesman said: "TUV can confirm that Ann Cooper is no longer a member of the party. Anything she says, she says as a private citizen."
Patrick Yu, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, said Ms Cooper's remarks were unacceptable. He added: "She is not even looking at the issues, but we still have that kind of person in our society. They are not living in a modern society and they don't see that society is changing, or see the type of diversity - culturally, linguistically and socially."