Anna Lo to quit NI politics over disillusionment

Anna Lo said she was "very angry" at the comments by Peter Robinson and Pastor James McConnell

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Anna Lo of the Alliance Party has said she will not seek re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly because she is disillusioned with politics.

Ms Lo told the Guardian newspaper that continual racist abuse directed at her by loyalists influenced her decision.

She told the BBC she was considering leaving Northern Ireland following comments from a north Belfast pastor who said he did not trust Muslims.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said remarks he made in support were misinterpreted.

'Not safe'

North Belfast Pastor James McConnell had described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic".

Start Quote

It's imperative that all of us in positions of responsibility are unambivalent in our stance against prejudice, bigotry, racism and intolerance”

End Quote Martin McGuinness Deputy first minister

Ms Lo, who was the UK's first ever parliamentarian from the Chinese community, said she was "very angry" at the support given to Mr McConnell.

She said: "I do not feel safe here and I know many people who feel the same."

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, she said she is considering leaving the country "because of what might happen" after what Mr Robinson had said, as the comments could "escalate even more of the racist tension".

"I love this country and I chose to live here. I am just appalled our political leaders are coming out and making such comments."

She called on Mr Robinson and Pastor McConnell to apologise for what they said.

'Vulnerable'

Later on Thursday, an Alliance Party spokesperson said that Ms Lo had already been considering retirement after the next election for some time, but recent events had helped her make the decision.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he had told Ms Lo on Thursday "that she and our Muslim community are much-valued members of our society".

"Anna Lo's remarks earlier today are an indication of the deep affect on our ethnic minority communities, on an individual and collective level, of the recent comments in support of Pastor James McConnell by some unionists," said the Sinn Féin assembly member.

"The executive and political leaders need to stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who have been victims of racist intimidation and attacks.

"It's imperative that all of us in positions of responsibility are unambivalent in our stance against prejudice, bigotry, racism and intolerance."

Alliance Party East Belfast MP Naomi Long said: "The fact that she feels so vulnerable and so let down by her first minister is something that he needs to address quickly."

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Ivan Lewis said on Twitter: "Anna Lo's disturbing announcement and Pastor McConnell's Islamophobic remarks should be a wakeup call to those who care about NI's future.

"Irrespective of political affiliation, that Anna feels she must leave public life is sad and a backward step for society and politics."

Eamon Gilmore and Theresa Villiers Eamon Gilmore and Theresa Villiers were discussing the NI political process in Dublin

Mr McConnell's remarks were condemned by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who were meeting in Dublin to discuss the political situation in Northern Ireland.

Ms Villiers added that she noted that Mr Robinson had sought to clarify his own remarks.

They said there was a window of time between now and the annual 12 July Orange Order marches to make progress on the past, parades and flags - a period that coincided with Mr Gilmore's remaining time as minister, following his resignation earlier this week.

Ms Villiers said they would do all they could to make progress.

Mr Gilmore said "considerable work has been done" but it was time for political parties to take responsibility and act in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

He added it was important that the decisions of the Parades Commission were respected.

Racist claim 'wrong'

Meanwhile, the DUP has said one of its councillors in Newtownabbey, Dineen Walker, was wrong to accuse Ms Lo of being racist against the people of Northern Ireland.

"Dineen Walker's comments in no way represent the views of the Democratic Unionist Party," the party said.

"Although we have profound political differences with Anna Lo, and do not support her pro-united Ireland stance, it is simply wrong to accuse her of racism.

"Such language is wrong and Dineen has removed the comment acknowledging that she read the news report incorrectly. Councillor Walker has also apologised for the remarks."

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