Police called to probe DUP MLA Paul Girvan's 'gypsy' comment
POLICE have been urged to investigate a DUP assembly member who said scrap metal dealers should be armed with guns to protect themselves from "gypsies".
South Antrim MLA Paul Girvan, who previously hit the headlines for saying he had "no problem" with the Irish tricolour being burnt on loyalist bonfires, made the remark during a recent meeting of Stormont's environment committee.
The DUP representative's words are not included in the assembly's official record, but in an audio recording of the November 26 committee meeting about the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, Mr Girvan can be heard speaking to a colleague and using an anachronistic and insulting term for Travellers.
"I think they need to issue all the scrap metal dealers with firearms... so they can protect themselves... with gypsies coming in telling them (inaudible)," the DUP MLA is heard to say.
Mr Girvan goes on to contribute to the committee meeting and highlights his concern about some individuals involved in the scrap metal trade.
"Some scrap metal dealers have said to me that some of the guys have an unsavoury background and that they could become quite difficult if they were to feel that there was a means in place to try to record stuff about them," he said in relation to dealers seeking details from people selling scrap.
His remarks have been condemned by the director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.
Patrick Yu said Mr Girvan's language was inappropriate and not befitting of a public representative.
"This type of language is not of the standard we expect those in public life to use," he said.
Listen to Paul Girvan's remarks
But North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, who was sat close to the DUP MLA at the committee meeting, went further and said police should investigate whether the comments infringed legislation to protect minorities against hate.
"Time and time again the DUP have revealed their extreme views," the SDLP representative said.
"These comments are irresponsible particularly coming from someone charged with delivering this legislation."
Calling on Mr Girvan to retract the comment, Mr Maginness said society needed fewer guns and greater tolerance.
South Belfast MLA Anna Lo said it was unacceptable to use discriminatory language against any section of society.
"People from the Travelling community have had to face many negative stereotypes over the years and such a term reinforces that," she said.
"It is unfortunate Paul Girvan spoke about Travellers in such a manner."
Sinn Féin's Caitriona Ruane linked Mr Girvan's remarks to comments made by the DUP's Sammy Wilson earlier this where he complained that Travellers were "more worthy of preferential treatment" than member of the armed forces.
Ms Ruane described both DUP representatives' remarks as "lazy and inflammatory".
In July 2013 radio broadcast, Mr Girvan said putting an Irish flag on top of a bonfire was "part of the culture".
"I've no problem about burning of a tricolour on top of a bonfire - let's be honest," he said.
"This is the flag of a foreign country as far as I'm concerned."
But when contacted by The Irish News the MLA and Newtownabbey councillor said he had been "caught on the hop" and was sorry for the remarks.
A DUP statement said Mr Girvan had made a "private comment".
"It was not part of the committee business and does not represent a view of the party," the statement said.