DUP MP Gregory Campbell has denied he is a racist after he criticised a gospel singing show for not including more white people.
The East Derry MP, who has a history of making highly offensive statements, stood by his condemnation of those taking part in a gospel music section of BBC show, ‘Songs Of Praise’.
He said the high number of black people taking part was the BBC “at its BLM (Black Lives Matter) worst”.
He wrote in an online post: “The singers were all very good but can you imagine an all white line up with an all white jury and presented by a white person? No I can’t either.”
He has declined to apologise over the comments, insisting that he is against racism.
Ethnic minority and anti-racism campaigners have called on Mr Campbell to apologise. Sinn Féin MP John Finucane urged the DUP to take action.
“Gregory Campbell’s refusal to apologise is simply not good enough. The DUP must take decisive action on this. Their failure to do so speaks volumes,” he wrote.
Addressing the Assembly, Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long described Mr Campbell’s remarks as “not only reprehensible and racist”, but “also quite bizarre”.
“Anyone who has any understanding of the history of gospel music will be aware that it comes from the trials and tribulations of those who were often sent to the US as slaves, and therefore it is a tradition of singing, a tradition of music that has grown up from that background, and to suggest that there was anything at all to do with BLM or any other kind of positive discrimination in the fact that the best singers were through to the competition, and those most experienced were judging it, I think is a mistake.”
Mr Campbell insisted that there should have been more white people on the show. “There wasn’t much diversity or inclusion in that edition of Songs Of Praise, that’s what I was getting at,” he said.
The North West Migrants Forum, covering Mr Campbell’s constituency, said they were “astonishing and shocking” comments.
“He needs to withdraw his ignorant and insulting post and make a full public apology to the black and minority ethnic community of his constituency and beyond.”
A statement, along with 1,000 signatures, has been hand-delivered to the MP’s constituency office. The statement calls on Mr Campbell to withdraw his comments and issue a full public apology.
“Given his role as an elected representative and public servant, Mr Campbell’s statement cannot go unchallenged; the potential costs are too high,” they said.
The group called on DUP leader Arlene Foster to “ensure that he is held accountable for his words”.
Sinn Féin said it has reported the comments to the standards commissioner at the House of Commons. Local Assembly member Caoimhe Archibald said the comments do not reflect the views of the vast majority of the constituents he purports to represent.
Mr Campbell also has strong views on homosexuality, once describing it as “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”.
He said: “In the bible, there is only one sin which called down literal fire and brimstone from God and that wasn’t murder, it wasn’t theft, it was homosexuality”.
The East Derry MP was also briefly barred from speaking in the Stormont assembly after saying “Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer”, in an attempt to mock the Irish sentence “Go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” (thank you, Speaker).