Northern Ireland

Blonde comments 'unbefitting of a leader,' says Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill stands alongside DUP leader Arlene Foster Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Michelle O'Neill says 'blonde' was not meant as a compliment

Michelle O'Neill has said she does not accept that comments calling her a "blonde" were meant as a compliment.

Arlene Foster used the word to describe Sinn Féin's northern leader during a word-association game in an interview with the Sunday Independent,.

Speaking to BBC's Inside Politics, Mrs O'Neill said the DUP leader's comments were "totally unbefitting of a leader".

She said Mrs Foster "knew rightly" that her words were sexist, as she referred to that in her original interview.

She said her daughter Saoirse did not check with her first before criticising Mrs Foster over social media.

Image copyright @SK_ONeill twitter
Image caption Mrs O'Neill's daughter labelled the 'blonde' comments as 'disgraceful'

Mrs O'Neill said her daughter is "a political activist in her own right" who felt "very aggrieved" by the comments.


Despite the strength of Sinn Féin's response to the "blonde" comment, Mrs O'Neill said no-one should conclude that she can not have a working relationship with Mrs Foster in the future.

On Thursday, the DUP leader told the BBC's The View programme that Sinn Féin's insistence they cannot share power with her until she is cleared of responsibility for the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme scandal is "an absolute outrage".

Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Michelle O'Neill said there were "ways and means" for the DUP to put forward someone who can go into an Executive

Mrs O'Neill told Inside Politics that her party's position remains unchanged and if the DUP wants to go back into the executive "there are ways and means for them to put forward someone who can go into an Executive" but there must also be progress on other issues in the talks.

Asked if she would continue to insist the DUP nominee should be someone other than Arlene Foster even after a deal is achieved on issues like the Irish language and legacy, Mrs O'Neill said: "yes I have said that consistently."

She added that "the DUP can find a mechanism to deal with the issue".

Mrs O'Neill denied putting issues like the Irish language and legacy ahead of those people worried that the lack of an Executive might negatively impact on health care.

The former health minister insisted she shares people's concerns and remains committed to restoring devolution.

'Careful with language'

She defended Sinn Féin's abstentionist approach, claiming that local anti-Brexit MPs who have taken their seats in Westminister been ineffective.

She argued that even the SNP, which had 54 MPs in the last parliament, have "not been able to impact on the Tory government".

Mrs O'Neill also said a Sinn Féin councillor who called People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll a "Brit" was "right to withdraw the comment".

The comment referred to Mr Carroll's willingness to take a seat at Westminster.

She said all her members should be very careful in their language.

The People Before Profit (PBP) MLA has said he is not looking for an apology from the councillor.

Alternative socialist voices

Speaking to the BBC's Inside Politics, Mr Carroll said there is nothing wrong with being British but the comment was not about his nationality but intended as an insult.

He said that if Sinn Féin is really committed to a respect agenda it should not be engaging in such comments.

He rejected the argument that an isolated MP from Northern Ireland can make little difference taking a seat in the House of Commons

Instead, he believes it is important that alternative socialist voices are heard inside Westminster.

Mr Carroll also denied that backing the UK's exit from the European Union (EU) was a strategic error.

He claimed his party's position on the EU had been misrepresented by Sinn Féin.

Mr Carroll said PBP is opposed to the "Tory vision of Brexit" and in favour of a "different kind of Europe with open borders and solidarity between people".

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