Heated words were exchanged at a meeting of Belfast City Council after a councillor appeared to defend a “racist” leaflet drop that police are treating as a hate crime.
Councillors reacted saying the comments were "atrocious".
The leaflet was put through the letterboxes of residents in the Ravenhill Road area of the city last week and purported to be from a group called “Generation Sparta”.
The leaflet warned against the 'Islamification' of Northern Ireland and contained several racist messages, one of which called for Catholics and Protestants to unite against the “common threat” of “fanatical Islamists".
"Protestants and Catholics bled for this land, not Islamists,” another read.
The topic of the leaflets was brought up in the council chamber on Monday night by Alliance councillor David Armitage, who was discussing his work with minority communities in Belfast.
“Now there are leaflets being delivered by race hate groups, by fascist, racist groups with links to Britain First. This disgusts me and a lot of people in my community,” he said.
“I’m sure a lot of us here will condemn these fascist leaflets that have been distributed across south east Belfast.”
Independent councillor Jolene Bunting, who has in the past been associated with Britain First and has previously spoken at a rally in Belfast organised by the group, defended the distribution of the leaflets.
“I believe they [the leaflets] were information. It may not have been put in the most helpful way, but people in this city need to know information about all faiths in society,” she said,
“If those faiths aren’t going to interact with people in this city, then people will take what they want from what’s in the public and online.
She also made reference to the Telford grooming scandal exposed last month and said “issues like this are not going to go away”.
“It’s up to the leaders in this city to address people’s concerns and not just label them as racist or fascist. Fascists are the people who don’t want anyone to speak out about Islam.”
Ms Bunting’s comments were widely criticised by her fellow councillors. It was pointed out to her that parts of the leaflet contained incorrect information.
Alliance representative Kate Nicholl stated she “could not believe” something which is being treated by police as a hate crime could be described by a member of the chamber as “information”.
“What councillor Bunting has just said is atrocious. Leadership is about condemning hatred and that is something all of us should be doing,” she said.
Chris McGimpsey of the Ulster Unionists said the leaflets were racist, Islamophobic and should be condemned.
Sinn Fein’s Deirdre Hargey said racism and Islamophobia have no place in Belfast and challenged those who distributed the leaflets to come forward and explain themselves.
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said it was time everyone recognised that “words have consequences” and he referenced several arson attacks across Belfast in recent times where minority communities have been targeted.
“There is a clear line between freedom of speech and incitement to hatred. This has plenty of standards internationally and locally and I believe these leaflets and some of the comments made here cross over that line.
“This really is a sordid little affair and some members of this room need to take cognisance of that and just stop.”
Local News Partnership