Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd has compared racist attacks in Banbridge to the erection of UVF flags in the town, claiming they “send out the same message of hate”.
Condemning recent racist attacks in the Seapatrick area, the Sinn Féin man said they are “a product of hatred driven by ignorance”.
“Those responsible for these attacks are to be condemned outright. Those in politics and the media who propogate fear of immigrants need to be aware that their words and actions lead to hate crimes such as those we have witnessed recently in Banbridge,” Mr O’Dowd said.
“Whether it is swastikas or UVF flags and Red Hand Commando plaques on display in Banbridge - all send out the same message of hate.
“EU immigrants or your neighbour of a different faith is not your enemy nor the cause of poverty and unemployment,” he added.
Hitting back at Mr O’Dowd’s remarks, local UUP Cllr Glenn Barr described the UVF flags erected in the town as “historical flags” and pointed out that one of his Sinn Fein colleagues had welcomed the Banbridge District Flags Protocol.
Stressing that there is “no place for racism anywhere in our country”, Cllr Barr said: “I welcome John O’Dowd’s condemnation of the racist attack in Seapatrick, however what he has done here is taken the attention away from the perpetrators and the innocent victims of this outrageous act and placed it elsewhere.”
The Banbridge representative added: “Not that long ago in Laurencetown an Irish Tricolour flew with pictures of terrorist gunmen depicted on it, and still today there are Starry Plough flags flying which are linked to violent Irish Republicanism. I wonder if Mr O’Dowd has anything to say condemning those flags?”
Speaking about Mr O’Dowd’s comments, Upper Bann DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: “It is quite a leap to link the display of loyalist emblems with fascism and intimidation. This from a member of a party which has members who ethnically cleansed Protestants in border areas and murdered people from all sections of the community. He would do well to reflect on his comments.
“There is a wider debate about immigration controls, but we welcome people from all countries who enrich our culture and no one should suffer from fear or intimidation. I condemned this when this story broke and I continue to do so. I will work with community representatives in the area instead of engaging in the rhetoric of Mr O’Dowd.”
• Read related story - Racist graffiti the work of ‘absolute morons’