The DUP’s Gregory Campbell has been called upon to apologise for an attempt to mock the Irish language community in the Six-County Assembly at Stormont.
Campbell has been accused of “pure ignorance” after replying to the assembly speaker during a debate on the Irish language and Ulster Scots with “curry my yoghurt”.
Sinn Fein culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin said Mr Campbell’s behaviour was “not befitting a member of the assembly”.
The comments came Mr Campbell was invited to speak by principal deputy speaker, Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin.
In response, Mr Campbell appeared to mock the Irish language replying: “Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer”.
The phrase was an apparent reference to “go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle”, which means “thank you, speaker” in Irish.
When Mr Campbell then asked Ms Ni Chuilin about a minority languages’ strategy, the Sinn Fein minister refused to answer the question, saying that Mr Campbell’s behaviour was not “befitting a member of the assembly”.
“If it’s anything to go by what you just did, we don’t need a strategy for pure ignorance,” she said.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said the comments were “unacceptable and, in my view, racist”.
He called on the DUP to “show leadership” and apologise immediately to the Irish language community.
“There is an onus on all of us in positions of political leadership to represent everyone in our society.
“That involves promoting equality, mutual respect and tolerance and standing up for all communities. Those are the core principles we are all signed up to.”
Mr Campbell refused to apologise for the remark. He received a one day ban from the Speaker’s Office, although the ruling had no impact as he was due at Westminster in any event.
It is not the first time Mr Campbell or his DUP colleagues have made bigoted comments about the Irish language.
In 1987, fellow DUP MP Sammy Wilson, a former Belfast city councillor, labelled Irish “a leprechaun language” after it was spoken during a council debate by Sinn Fein councillors.
Sinn Fein MLA Rosie McCorley referred the latest bigoted outburst to the North’s human rights and equality commissions.
“Gregory Campbell’s utterly disrespectful comments in the Assembly chamber in relation to the Irish language have quite rightly sparked anger from the Irish community and others,” said Ms McCorley.
She added, “Everyone has the right to speak Irish and thousands of people do on a daily basis, regardless of whether Gregory likes it or not. No amount of politically motivated posturing will deter Sinn Fein from promoting the Irish language and continuing to lobby for the rights of Irish speakers.”
She said it was “nothing new” from the DUP who, she said, had blocked the development on an Irish language act for the North. Legislation had been due to be introduced following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Ms McCorley said the DUP had a long history of insults to the Irish speaking community.
“While this might be funny in Gregory’s little closed world, it is hugely insulting to all of those who promote the huge benefits of endorsing and enhancing bilingualism in our society especially in our children.”