Lord Kilclooney 'will not be bullied' over Irish PM tweet

By Enda McClafferty
BBC News

Image caption,
Lord Kilclooney previously said the tweet was 'not racist' but 'shorthand for an Indian surname which I could not spell'

Former senior Ulster Unionist Lord Kilclooney has said he will not be bullied by what he called "foul-mouthed republicans" after his controversial tweet about the Irish Prime Minister.

He also said he has no intention of apologising for describing Mr Varadkar as "the Indian".

The tweet has been labelled racist by Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey and Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry.

Lord Kilclooney told BBC NI's the View that he was not a "racist".

He added that he "stood over" what he said in the tweet.

However, he attacked the "offensive" language used by some who have criticised him.

"I got about 40 or 50 tweets and most of them were from these foul-mouthed Irish republicans," Lord Kilclooney said.

"Reasonable people sent me messages of support and understood what I was saying. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not racist and I mix with Indian people all the time."

Lord Kilclooney issued the tweet last week in response to a news story about Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, but later withdrew it.

Mr Varadkar was born in the Republic of Ireland and is of Indian heritage.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey and Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry both described the tweet as racist.

Mr Farry wrote on Twitter: "Let's call this out for what it is - racism. The Taoiseach is just as Irish as Simon Coveney. Let's see if there is the courage and integrity to withdraw this."

Lord Kilclooney did withdraw the tweet but said he has no intention of saying sorry.

"Not in the least, there is no question in apologising for something which is correct, something which was not racist, something which even the leader of the Indian community in Belfast in a BBC interview said was not racist and I stand over every word of it."

Instead, Lord Kilclooney - who only joined twitter a few months ago - hit back at those who criticised him, calling some "foul-mouthed republicans".

"I say what I mean and mean what I say, I'm a blunt speaker, I don't hide away and these other people do and many of them are fairly offensive, fairly crude and try and paint a picture of you which is false."

'Levels of abuse'

But, the peer also revealed he has gained new followers because of the "excitement" over the tweet.

"I have got dozens of dozens of more followers now, so I welcome that," he said.

Meanwhile, the DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly has said she is concerned at the rising levels of abuse being directed at politicians on Twitter which she said can be hurtful for families.

"My mum is not on Twitter which is a good thing and I'm thankful that she doesn't have to see the levels of abuse and hate at times," she said.

"In relation to what (DUP leader) Arlene Foster had said, the younger generation, her children, my step children and others that are on those platforms, it can be very difficult to see that type of abuse."

Image caption,
Emma Little-Pengelly is concerned at the rising levels of abuse being directed at politicians on Twitter

The South Belfast MP said she has considered following Arlene Foster's lead in allowing DUP staff to take charge of her account.

Dr Kevin Curran - Professor of Cyber Security at Ulster University - said Twitter is coming under pressure to impose tighter controls on its site.

"There is a lot of bullying on there because people can remain anonymous, there is no barrier to entry, you are just hiding behind a Twitter handle and you can say what you want," he said.

He added that a recent Home Affairs Committee report had called on the social media platform to provide more transparency about its operation.

"Give us the facts that other organisations do when they tell us how many sites they have taken down.

"Tell us how many posts have you taken down? How many users have you banned? What are you doing about it? Give us more transparency."

There will be more on this story on The View on BBC One Northern Ireland at 22:40 GMT on Thursday.

More on this story