DUP defends Clarke's ‘ignorance' as Elton John wades into Aids controversy
The DUP has voiced its disappointment over the "mockery and fury" Trevor Clarke received after admitting he previously thought HIV was a condition exclusive to gay men.
The party has found itself embroiled in controversy over comments by its elected representatives relating to this week's World Aids day – including criticism from Elton John ahead of his gig in Belfast last night.
Asked about his charity foundation and a survey that highlighted commonly-held misconceptions about Aids and HIV, the singer said he was not surprised by the research findings.
"A Northern Ireland politician said the other day he didn't know that heterosexual people could get Aids, or HIV," he said.
"So, it's like: 'What planet are you living on?"'
In addition to Mr Clarke's confessing to the assembly on Tuesday that he was unaware hetrosexuals could contract HIV, Sammy Wilson has been criticised for claiming many diseases have not received the same attention as AIDS, even though they affect more people.
Responding by email to a constituent who asked if he would wear a red ribbon supporting World AIDS day, the East Antrim MP said some diseases were "not always as a result of lifestyle choices" and added that they "deserve higher priorities then they have been given at present".
Mr Wilson said he appreciated his constituent's concerns about AIDS but added: "You will appreciate that there are people who suffer from mental health problems, dementia and cancer which also have a huge impact on their lives and which are equally deserving of resources".
However, his party colleague Paula Bradley said she was disappointed by the DUP MP's comments.
During Tuesday's assembly discussion Ms Bradley revealed that "someone she loves" had been diagnosed with HIV a decade ago.
"I know Sammy, I know him well. I know he's forthright," she said on BBC's The View.
"I know he says what he thinks and what he feels. If I'm honest, I would say I was slightly disappointed by that reaction. I believe it wouldn't have been that difficult to wear a red ribbon in support."
Ms Bradley said that wearing a red ribbon was not a difficult thing to do.
The DUP did not respond directly to Elton John's remark but defended Mr Clarke's confession of previous ignorance about HIV.
"During the debate Trevor spoke of his own experience in the past where he described himself previously as 'ignorant' and praised the work of groups like Positive Life for helping him learn about the facts surrounding HIV – the very outcome that a public awareness campaign seeks to deliver," a spokesman said.
"We can all do more to educate ourselves about HIV. It is disappointing though that admitting a previous lack of knowledge has been met with such a combination of mockery and fury."