Northern Ireland news

Call for inclusion and diversity training for MLAs after Sinn Féin's Linda Dillon used offensive term

Linda Dillon has asked to make an apology to the Justice Committee for using an offensive and hurtful term. Picture by Arthur Allison

A Stormont assembly member believes colleagues would benefit from "inclusion and diversity training" to ensure an offensive term like that used by Sinn Féin's Linda Dillon is not repeated.

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said "one positive" that could be taken from the incident last week would be that it raised awareness about "why certain phrases are not acceptable".

During Thursday's meeting of the assembly justice committee, Ms Dillon used the word "coloured" – the same word that earlier in the week led to the resignation of English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke.

During a discussion on the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, the Mid Ulster representative said in reference to a scenario involving the PSNI: "... for example, you may easily be able to see that someone has a physical disability, you may easily be able to see somebody is coloured, somebody is... from an Asian background and things like that."

The term is considered offensive due to its associations with racial segregation and the subjugation of black people, primarily in the US.

Ms Dillon later apologised unreservedly for the "offensive remark" and the "hurt caused".

Sinn Féin said the party's legacy and victims spokesperson had written to the chair of the justice committee asking "to be facilitated at the start of the next public session to make an apology for using an offensive and hurtful term".

Notably, none of her colleagues, including committee chair Paul Givan, picked up on the word, which was particularly topical given the high-profile exit of the FA chairman days earlier.

Ms Armstrong told The Irish News that the episode had raised awareness that she hoped would lead to "corrective action, including learning why language is important and why certain phrases are not acceptable".

"It is time all politicians here received inclusion and diversity training, which would include the use of language," the Strangford MLA said.

"There needs to be more done by parties to encourage black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups, as well as people with disabilities and others, to have an active role in politics here."

An assembly spokeswoman said a range of training was available to MLAs and their staff and that they would be consulted on whether this should extend to issues such as anti-racism, diversity and equality.

The video of the justice committee during which Ms Dillon used the term will be archived on both the assembly's website and on its YouTube channel, the spokeswoman said.

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