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UK peer accused of racism for ‘typical Indian’ attack on Irish PM

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London, May 1:  A member of Britain’s House of Lords was today forced to deny that he is a racist after he called Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar a “typical Indian” on social media.

Lord Kilclooney, a former member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in Northern Ireland, was responding to a BBC headline on Twitter which read: “DUP: Varadkar’s visit to Northern Ireland showed ‘disrespect’”. Kilclooney tweeted back yesterday with the words, “Typical Indian”.

“I am certainly no racist and in particular have an admiration for Indians. A member of the British/Indian APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group), only yesterday I had a reply from 10, Downing St asking for a relaxation of visas for Indians. My point was that the PM (Varadkar) had upset Unionists more than Irish PMs had,” he later tweeted, after being accused of racism.

But many took to Twitter to condemn his words, including former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt who said it could only be interpreted as a “racist comment”.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said Lord Kilclooney was “an embarrassment”.

She said his latest comment was a “slur on all Indian people with his use of the word ‘typical'” and demanded that the Speaker of the House of Lords raise the matter with the peer.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA Christopher Stalford tweeted: “I don’t know what John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) thinks he’s playing at but he doesn’t speak for me. Absolutely ridiculous behaviour”.

The 80-year-old life peer defended his remark by saying Varadkar had been “most provocative” over the course of the Brexit negotiations and had “misunderstood the views of many unionists”. He added that the Irish premier had a “dismal lack of knowledge” about Northern Ireland affairs.

The comments came after Northern Ireland’s DUP accused Maharashtrian-origin Varadkar of breach of protocol saying he visited the region without informing local elected representatives of his visit to counties Armagh and Down. The Irish leader stressed that he followed standard protocol by informing the Northern Ireland Office of his visit.

“I can assure anyone that I’m not an invader. I just want to be a good neighbour and I received a very warm welcome in Northern Ireland,” Varadkar said.

“The only future that we have on this island is to work together and that’s what I want to do. I’m not here to upset anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. I’m just here as a neighbour,” he added.

Ireland and Northern Ireland have a long history of political troubles, brought to the fore by the ongoing Brexit negotiations which will leave European Union member-state Ireland bordering a non-EU member state, Northern Ireland. The border issue is seen as a major stumbling block in Britain and the EU finalising any exit deal.

This is not the first time Kilclooney has been caught up in a racism controversy. Last November, he acknowledged that a remark he made about Varadkar had caused “upset and misunderstanding” and withdrew his tweet that referred to the premier as “the Indian”.

“In Twitter one is restricted to a limited number of words and so for shorthand I used the term Indian for the new PM in Dublin. This has caused upset and misunderstanding and so I withdraw it. I am no way racist and accept that Varadkar is a 100 per cent Irish citizen,” he had said at the time.

Varadkar was born in Ireland to a Mumbai-born father and Irish mother. In June, 2017, he became Ireland’s first Indian-origin ‘Taoiseach’ or prime minister.

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