Belfast Telegraph

MP defends 'curry my yoghurt' jibe

An MP from Northern Ireland who received a death threat after poking fun at the Irish language has defended comments which critics claimed questioned key peace process talks.

Veteran Democratic Unionist Gregory Campbell said the party would treat Sinn Fein's "entire wish list" for negotiations as no more than toilet paper, including calls for an Irish language act. He parodied the language in a manner Martin McGuinness branded "appalling".

The East Londonderry MP was warned of a serious danger by police but said he would not be dictated to by terrorists.

Stormont deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said the remarks were a disgrace but added Sinn Fein was committed to the talks.

Politicians in Belfast are engaged in sensitive negotiations about issues left outstanding from the peace process like the legacy of the violence for survivors, contentious parades and flags.

Mr Campbell said: "Exposing those politicising the Irish language, as well as those making unrealistic political demands at the talks table is the right thing to do. How dare anyone try to suggest that it is something to be ashamed of?

"I will not be apologising for, or deviating from doing the right thing."

First Minister Peter Robinson has defended remarks made by his colleague at Saturday's DUP conference.

Sinn Fein and the staunchly-unionist DUP are the two largest parties in the powersharing administration at Stormont.

At the conference Mr Campbell referred to comments he made in the assembly earlier in the month.

He began an address with "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer", in imitation of the Irish sentence "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" which translates as "thank you, Speaker". He was banned from addressing the assembly for a day for failing to apologise.

On Saturday, Mr Campbell started his speech at the conference by saying it was always good to start the day with a healthy breakfast.

He then brought out a tub of yoghurt and said: "So I got some yoghurt today.

"And I'm looking forward to lunch, because they tell me there's some curry there."

Mr Campbell has been an MP since 2001. He is a former culture minister in the powersharing ministerial executive at Stormont and has been a trenchant critic of Sinn Fein.

Mr McGuinness said: "This cannot be passed over as comedy, it was absolutely appalling in my view, there was absolutely nothing funny about it."

He added: "I don't think excuses can be made for what Gregory said."

He said this is not a time for making excuses, but for recognising the damage that has been done and it is also time for people to show leadership.

"We are in there to find a way forward to find a solution but in finding solutions all parties have to face up to their responsibilities and when there are people within the ranks of political parties who harbour these Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-Irish tendencies then that represents a real challenge for those parties."

Mr Robinson said the party was committed to the talks being chaired by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers. But senior Sinn Fein member John O'Dowd has said Mr Campbell had challenged the integrity of the process.

Mr Robinson said: "A threat against anyone who represents the local community as a democratically elected representative, when such an attack takes place it is an attack on democracy itself."

"We do need to support and recognise the difference between support for the Irish language and those who want to use the Irish language for political purposes."

He added Mr Campbell's remarks dismissing Sinn Fein's "wish list" had not directly addressed the all-party talks.

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