Northern Ireland

Belfast councillor says Lord Kilclooney unlikely to face sanctions from 'toothless' standards watchdog

Lord Kilclooney has again faced allegations of racism
Lord Kilclooney has again faced allegations of racism

A BELFAST councillor who previously complained about Lord Kilclooney's tweets has described the Westminster standards watchdog as "toothless".

SDLP representative Séamas de Faoite was one of a number of people who wrote to the Commissioner for Standards in 2017 after the former Stormont minister described the then taoiseach Leo Varadkar as an "Indian".

He later withdrew the tweet and admitted he had "caused upset and misunderstanding" but insisted it was "not racist".

Lord Kilclooney attracted a storm of criticism on Monday when he referred to US Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris too as an "Indian".

Speaker of the House of Lords Norman Fowler has called on the cross-bench life peer to "retract and apologise" for the tweet, which has since been deleted.

"This is an offensive way to refer to anyone, let alone a woman who has just made history," the speaker tweeted.

"The comment is entirely unacceptable and has no place in British politics. I could not be clearer."

The 82-year-old former MEP denied his social media post was racist.

"Whilst Biden is proud to be Irish and Harris is rightly proud of her Indian background I certainly withdraw my reference to her as an Indian as it seems to have upset some people," he later tweeted.

"I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood. Racist NO."

In a separate tweet he criticised the Lords' speaker for not contacting him personally.

The House of Lords standards watchdog is expected to receive a fresh raft of complaints about Lord Kilclooney's conduct, however, its policy is to neither confirm or deny that an investigation has been launched.

But according to Mr de Faoite lodging a complaint with the Commissioner for Standards is "pointless" because its remit only extends to peers' conduct within Westminster.

The SDLP representative said he and fellow councillors faced more severe sanctions for misconduct than peers.

"A local government councillor in Northern Ireland could rightly face suspension or expulsion for the kind of persistent racist behaviour that Kilclooney has demonstrated, however, following my complaint against him in 2017 it is my understanding that as a peer he is free to say what he likes outside of the chamber," he told The Irish News.

"This pattern of behaviour against people with an Indian heritage is unacceptable and short of the House of Lords taking disciplinary action, he should resign."

In response to the previous complaint against Lord Kilclooney, a spokesman for the House of Lords standards commissioner said: "The commissioner considered the complaint as part of an initial assessment but dismissed it without opening a formal investigation on the basis that a member's opinion, or the way they express themselves, does not fall within the scope of the code."