Northern Ireland

Sammy Wilson hits back over 'ethnics out' comment

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Media captionSammy Wilson was taking part in a BBC Spotlight programme about the European Union referendum

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has denied that he agreed with the comment 'Get the ethnics out'.

He said he was taken out of context after he was filmed appearing to agree with the view from a member of the public in a BBC Spotlight programme.

He told Radio Ulster's Talkback that he felt unfairly treated by Spotlight.

"They chose to present this as if I had some secret conversation with a man, got caught out and those were my views," he said.

"They know full well they were not my views."

The MP said he had spent four hours with Spotlight on a programme about the EU referendum, and made his views very clear.

"The impression has tried to be given that that was somehow something that was said in secret, away from the camera, away from the interviewer and that I was caught out," he said.

"That was not the case. The camera was following me, I had a mike on and I knew a reporter was close at hand."

He said that during filming, he had asked a man a question about leaving the European Union.

It was this that he had agreed about, not the "ethnics out" comment which the man made.

In a statement, the DUP said it disassociated the party "from the comment made by a member of the public".

BBC Spotlight journalist Conor Spackman explained the background to the incident.

"He [Sammy Wilson] and I were filmed walking around Carrickfergus market talking to members of the public," he said.

"At one point he stopped to talk to a man and I walked on. Mr Wilson then had a conversation with the man out of my earshot.

"At the time he was still being recorded.

"In part of the conversation, Mr Wilson said: "They are doing a programme on the BBC about should we stay in the European Union or get out of it, so I am going around talking to people and then they are going to do an interview with me."

The man replied: "I'd say get out of it. Between you and me get the ethnics out too."

Mr Wilson then said: "You are absolutely right, you know."

Mr Spackman said he had other conversations with people about immigration that day that would be a part of the debate in the run-up to the EU referendum.

But he said Mr Wilson's conversation with the man felt very different.

"I therefore wrote to Mr Wilson and asked him what he meant by appearing to agree with the statement: 'Get the ethnics out too'," he said.

"In response, Mr Wilson wrote back asking me whether the BBC was 'having a laugh'.

'Dangerous'

"Mr Wilson added: "I am not prepared to spend any more time being interviewed, giving you explanations or responding to what anyone would regard as a disgraceful request to facilitate your biased political slant to this programme."

The DUP said in a statement it "values everyone who comes to Northern Ireland and makes a contribution to our society".

"Ethnic minorities are vital to our biggest and best companies never mind our Health Service," it said.

"Get the ethnics out" is a disgraceful phrase.

"We disassociate the party from the comment made by a member of the public.

"Whilst there needs to be a discussion about how we control our borders, this should be conducted in a factual and respectful manner as part of the EU referendum debates."

The Polish consul in Northern Ireland, Jerome Mullen, said: "He [Mr Wilson] didn't make the comment but he agreed with the racist comments that were clearly made by the gentleman he was speaking to.

"It should be made clear and pointed out we are dependent upon a great many skills that the ethnic minority and particularly with the community that I represent, the Polish community, have been providing to Northern Ireland for many, many years.

"We couldn't survive in many of the businesses here in Northern Ireland without those skills and I don't think he's aware of that."