Belfast Telegraph

So, when is a fancy dress costume joke funny and when does it overstep the mark?

The fancy dress outfit that has caused offence
The fancy dress outfit that has caused offence
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

An entrepreneur whose business was badly affected by the fire at Bank Buildings says she "felt sick" when she saw a photo of a woman dressed up as a "Primark survivor" for Halloween.

Kathleen McGovern's arts and craft shop, Abacus Beads, which she founded 27 years ago, was among several businesses forced to close following August's blaze.

At the weekend, pictures surfaced on social media of a young woman in Halloween fancy dress who was wearing make-up resembling soot stains on her face, and clutching a blackened and torn Primark bag.

She has been dubbed the "Primark survivor" online.

It has led to a debate about whether too many Halloween costumes are overstepping the mark.

Describing the woman's outfit as "very distasteful", Ms McGovern said the blaze was "not something to be made fun of".

"I didn't like it at all," she commented.

"Whoever wore it obviously hasn't been directly affected or had someone close to them affected by the fire, or they might have thought twice.

"At the end of the day people's livelihoods were sent down the pan.

"It's on everyone's own conscience what they find humorous, but I think it's very distasteful to find humour in such a tragedy."

Ms McGovern said she had "gone through hell" since the fire happened.

She added: "The business which I had built up over 27 years had the potential to go down the pan, but I won't let that happen.

"It's almost like a bereavement, it's very difficult to put into words.

"For the first few weeks I was so emotional - even at business recovery meetings I was in tears.

"I couldn't stop crying, I was so overwhelmed, it was very traumatic.

"When people asked me how I was, I said that I was on an emotional knife edge.

"Seeing something like this brings all the emotions back to the surface."

Despite her disapproval of the costume, Ms McGovern said she doesn't believe that the person wearing it deliberately intended to cause hurt to those who had suffered because of the fire.

"They see it as original humour," she continued.

"I'm sure the girl didn't mean any harm, she just didn't have an understanding of the knock-on effect of what happened.

"If someone had been killed or injured she wouldn't have done that."

However, DUP MLA Jim Wells said the Primark fire fancy dress outfit was "in a different league" to the Ku Klux Klan costumes seen in Newtownards at the weekend.

"The Ku Klux Klan thing was incredibly sinister - I believe those people were doing it to intimidate," he said.

"That and the Primark costume are in a different league.

"One is intended to be humorous, the other is intended to intimidate and cause fear amongst a small group of people. I see that as a very sinister act.

"You couldn't regard the Primark one as sinister - it is ill-judged."

The South Down MLA continued: "People have the right to exercise humour, but it's not the wisest of things to do for fancy dress.

"The Primark fire had a devastating impact on businesses, it has made people unemployed and could cause huge problems in the build-up to the Christmas period.

"There is room for humour, but a very serious fire could have caused loss of life."

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