There have been calls for the sacking of Home Secretary Suella Braverman after she was accused of “deliberately stoking division” by using Northern Ireland as a point of comparison to characterise pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the UK as “hate marches”.
Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald branded the remarks as “extraordinary”, adding they “demonstrate the extent to which the Tory government and she, perhaps in particular, is at sea, and ignorant of Irish affairs”.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for the removal of Mrs Braverman from her position as he branded the comments as “aggressive ignorance”.
Writing in The Times, Mrs Braverman claimed “hate marchers” intend to use the Armistice Day protest as a “show of strength”.
The Home Secretary also characterised alleged reports that organisers of Saturday’s march were linked to Hamas as “disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster”.
Mrs Braverman said: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza.
“They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.
“Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”
Ms McDonald told Sky News: “I thought the remarks were extraordinary, they were, to say the least, unhelpful inasmuch as in the end they are a distraction from a situation that could not be more serious, and I think it would suit her better, and the government better, to join with others and call for a ceasefire.”
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Eastwood said: “The Home Secretary’s comments in an article in The Times today are so far removed from reality that it is impossible to come to any determination other than she is deliberately stoking division to bolster her own brand among the Conservative Party’s right wing.
“It’s honestly like reading a pound shop Enoch Powell piece.
“The comments comparing the proposed Armistice Day protests against the appalling bombardment of civilians in Gaza with the marching tradition in Northern Ireland are an exercise in what can only be described as aggressive ignorance; ignorance of the conditions faced by the civilian population in Gaza, ignorance of the role of the Met police, ignorance of the complex history and traditions of marching and protest in Northern Ireland.
“She has managed to offend just about everyone – no mean feat in a divided society.
“The comments are far below the standard that should be expected from a senior government minister. The only appropriate action now is her removal from office but given the systemic weakness of this government, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she remained.”
Matt Carthy, a Sinn Fein parliamentarian in the Republic of Ireland, also criticised the remarks on BBC radio: “Suella Braverman has about as much knowledge about Ireland as she seems to have on the situation in Palestine.
“Clearly, I would argue that if British Government ministers are in the frame of mind where they want to talk about Ireland, and in particular the North, the frame of mind they should be in is ensuring that the DUP return to Stormont and that we actually get the Executive up and running.”
Responding to the Home Secretary’s piece, Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “Braverman makes our country less safe. Not satisfied with inflaming tensions in London she thought she’d also light a match under Northern Ireland relations. No right-thinking prime minister would stand by her, let alone approve her copy.”
Former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Peter Hain said the remarks were an attack on Orange Order marches.
He said: “Why on earth is this gratuitously offensive Home Secretary meddling in Northern Ireland affairs with her ignorant attack on Orange Order marches by traditional unionists?
“She should stick to her day job and stop her scatter gun headline-grabbing attacks on all and sundry.”