The Westminster election campaign in the North has been marred by a series of pejorative insults over the past week.
A sexist outburst by DUP leader Arlene Foster about Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill infuriated the party and led to a backlash against the DUP leader.
Foster was asked in an interview with a Sunday newspaper what she thought of Sinn Fein’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill “in a word”.
She said: “I don’t want to be sexist because I can’t...” Prompted by the journalist from Sunday Independent to, “go on, it’s not sexist if it’s true,” the former First Minister blurted: “Blonde.”
She continued: “Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she is- you know- her appearance is always very ‘the same’. You never see her without her make-up. You never see her without her hair [looking] perfect.”
The comments have been met with varying levels of dismay. Mrs O’Neill’s daughter defended her mother.
Saoirse O’Neill tweeted: “Disgraceful Arlene, mummy has blonde hair yes, she also has class, smarts and strong leadership skills that empower the great women around her.”
Sinn Fein candidate in Derry, Elisha McCallion said: “The sexist and disparaging remarks made by Arlene Foster in relation to Michelle O’Neill are nothing short of disgraceful.
“It is totally unacceptable in the 21st Century for a political leader to characterise another political leader based on the colour of their hair.
“The irony of talking about sexism and misogyny appears to be totally lost on Arlene Foster when she makes such remarks about others.”
The remark has been likened to the former first minister’s previous outburst in which she compared Sinn Fein to a “hungry crocodile” over its calls for an Irish language act. Those comments were seen to have strongly boosted support for the language, and a major rally is taking place in Belfast today [Saturday].
Michelle O’Neill said there was no place for sexism in public life.
“There is a clear need for more women in public life and there is an onus on women in political leadership to empower women to encourage greater participation in public life,” she said.
Alliance leader Naomi Long also spoke of her shock at the remarks.
“I think that it is disappointing that anyone in leadership, but especially a woman, would opt to describe another female leader in terms solely of her appearance,” she said.
“You simply could not imagine such comments about male politicians, which makes it all the more demeaning. It trivialises women in politics.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson insisted the remarks were not sexist. He described the row as a “smokescreen” with Sinn Fein going “out of their way to find grievance where no grievance was meant”.
He declared: “Michelle O’Neill is blonde, unless she’s dyed her hair since the last time I’d the misfortune to see her on TV.”
Meanwhile, a socialist election candidate in west Belfast has hit back at Sinn Fein over one of its Belfast councillors calling him a “Brit”.
People before Profit candidate Gerry Carroll was described on Facebook as “Gerry the Brit” by a Sinn Fein election agent.
Ciaran Beattie, who is agent for Sinn Fein’s West Belfast MP candidate Paul Maskey, later withdrew the post, which had been ‘liked’ by several Sinn Fein politicians, saying he “didn’t think it was appropriate”.
Mr Carroll accused Sinn Fein of “pathetic slander”. He told the BBC: “The councillor doth protest too much, because it wasn’t too long ago that Gerry Adams was buddying around with Prince Charles, leader of the parachute regiment,” in reference to Mr Adams shaking hands with the prince in Dublin last week.
And a Tory councillor was suspended after posting a racist message about Irish “gypsies” following Ireland’s decision not to award Britain any points in the Eurovision Song Contest.
A tweet from the account from Nick Harrington, a Conservative councillor on Warwick District Council read: “Eurovision 2017 thanks Ireland. You can keep your f***ing gypsies! Hard [Brexit] border coming folks!”
A newly-elected Tory councillor was also suspended by the party in Scotland over allegations of offensive sectarian posts. The Scottish Conservatives said Dunblane representative Alastair Majury was suspended pending the investigation after he made derogatory references to “Tarriers”, an archaic Scottish slur for Catholics.