An MLA has apologised for an online comment in which she appeared to liken refugees to dogs.
UUP Lagan Valley MLA Jenny Palmer had denied her remark had been racist, although she said that it “could easily have been misinterpreted”, and pledged to give more thought to the language which she uses on the internet in the future.
The controversy reportedly began on Facebook, when one user of the social media service had questioned why “refugees” are not housed in the home of an MLA.
Mrs Palmer had then responded by saying that “I have two dogs, don’t need any more thank you”.
Her reply ended with the letters “lol” – slang for “laugh out loud”.
Shortly afterwards, in response to a web user who criticised her, Mrs Palmer said there had been a misunderstanding about what she meant.
The offending remark was reportedly made at the weekend.
Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan Show on Tuesday, commentator Malachi O’Docherty said that the existence of the refugee crisis itself is an “obscenity greater than the obscenity of her [Jenny Palmer’s] joke”.
However, he added: “For a politician to show so little sympathy and so little understanding of one of the major crises of our time that she can be that glib about it, I think pretty much disqualifies her from being taking seriously as a politician at all.”
In a statement, she said: “I would like first of all to apologise for any hurt that my careless words may have caused.
“These comments and actions do not reflect my own views.
“My words, made in reply to a Facebook comment, were intended as a joking remark regarding the busy-ness of my own home.
“The intention was to imply that between myself, my husband, our dogs and my daughter, we would struggle to accommodate anyone else.
“This was meant as a simple joke. However, as a later comment pointed out, my reply could easily have been misinterpreted as a racist or xenophobic comment.
“Particularly if taken without context or knowledge of my home.
“As soon as I was made aware of the offensive nature of the comment, I rectified my actions.
“I would again stress that those words do not reflect my viewpoint whatsoever. My actions and comment were genuine mistakes.
“ While these actions were mistakes, I take responsibility for them.
“As an elected official, I must hold myself to higher standards.
“I apologise unambiguously and will endeavour to ensure that my social media activity is more carefully considered in future.”
In September last year, then-Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to help resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Northern Ireland following calls from charitable groups and others.
The UN refugee agency has reported that, at time of writing, more than 289,000 people had arrived in Europe by sea so far this year – with by far the biggest group (30%) from Syria.