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Friday 6 December 2019

DUP politician who mocked Irish language receives 'serious threat to his life'

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell

Michael McHugh

An MP from Northern Ireland has received a death threat after poking fun at the Irish language.

Democratic Unionist (DUP) East Derry MP Gregory Campbell made comments which Sinn Fein said were disrespectful to the language. He also rejected calls for a law protecting it.

A DUP spokesman said: "Police contacted him and made him aware of a serious threat to his life."

Party leader Peter Robinson defended remarks made by his party colleague at Saturday's DUP conference.

Mr Campbell told delegates the DUP would treat Sinn Fein's "entire wish list" as no more than toilet paper.

He said that included calls for an Irish language act.

Sinn Fein and the staunchly-unionist DUP are the two largest parties in the powersharing administration at Stormont.

At the conference Mr Campbell also referred to comments he made in the assembly earlier in the month.

He began an address with "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer", in imitation of the Irish sentence "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" which translates as "thank you, Speaker". He was banned from addressing the assembly for a day for failing to apologise.

Sinn Fein assemblyman and Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin told the chamber: "The spirit of mockery was blatant and reflects badly upon this House and the deputy speakers."

On Saturday, Mr Campbell started his speech at the conference by saying it was always good to start the day with a healthy breakfast.

He then brought out a tub of yoghurt and said: "So I got some yoghurt today.

"And I'm looking forward to lunch, because they tell me there's some curry there."

Mr Campbell has been an MP since 2001. He is a former culture minister in the powersharing ministerial executive at Stormont and has been a trenchant critic of Sinn Fein.

Mr Robinson said: "A threat against anyone who represents the local community as a democratically elected representative, when such an attack takes place it is an attack on democracy itself."

He acknowledged that the Irish language had roots in Presbyterianism.

"We do need to support and recognise the difference between support for the Irish language and those who want to use the Irish language for political purposes."

He said Mr Campbell had a dry sense of humour but claimed some were playing politics with the language.

The First Minister added: "The language and culture surrounding it must be protected; when it starts to get drawn into the political realm we start to undermine and dilute the importance of the language.

"The more we can do to depoliticise the Irish language the greater the acceptance there will be of the language within the community."

He said Mr Campbell's remarks dismissing Sinn Fein's "wish list" had not directly addressed all-party talks being held to reach agreement on issues outstanding from the peace process like contentious parades, flags and the legacy of conflict deaths.

The leader said his party was committed to reaching a deal.

"If we fail it says little for the future of this assembly and this executive. It is very important that we do reach agreement."

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