Sinn Fein MP distances herself from ‘offensive’ autism remarks

Michelle Gildernew retweeted the Kevin Meagher article but deleted her retweet when she became aware of its content
Michelle Gildernew retweeted the Kevin Meagher article but deleted her retweet when she became aware of its content
  • Sinn Fein embroiled in another social media controversy

A Sinn Fein MP has moved to disassociate herself from a controversial article which compared the DUP to autistic people.

The party has found itself embroiled in another social media storm after Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew retweeted a link to an article penned by political commentator Kevin Meagher, who was once special advisor to former secretary of state Shaun Woodward.

In the piece published by the Huffington Post, Mr Meagher – a fervent supporter of a united Ireland – claimed unionist politicians “make difficult situations worse with a combination of bellicosity and mean-spiritedness”.

He added: “Frankly, if the DUP was a person, modern etiquette would see them cut them some slack on the suspicion they had a spectrum disorder.”

Mental health activists have slammed Mr Meagher’s remarks and called for him to apologise.

Mrs Gildernew has also come under fire for circulating the article.

While Sinn Fein acknowledged that Mrs Gildernew did retweet the link posted by Mr Meagher, the party told the News Letter that the former agriculture minister had done so without reading the article.

“When it was pointed out to her that there were offending comments in the Huffington Post article she immediately deleted her retweet and entirely disassociates herself from the offending comments,” a party spokesperson said.

Condemning the remarks contained in the article, Mrs Gildernew said: “No one should make comparisons like these as they are inherently offensive.”

This latest social media controversy comes just days after Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff resigned as an MP after posting a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill-branded bread on his head, on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmills massacre.

His party colleague, Mairtin O Muilleoir MLA was also criticised for retweeting the video and was warned by the party to be more responsible on social media.

Ryan Hendry, who is autistic, hit out at Mrs Gildernew for retweeting Mr Meagher’s post and said it “made a mockery” of the party’s rhetoric on respect and equality.

The Carrickfergus man, who works for advocacy group Autistic UK, told the News Letter: “I was hurt and disappointed by these comments made by Mr Meagher, who seems to be making the case that all autistic people are belligerent and difficult to work with.

“The fact that it has been retweeted by Gildernew is also disappointing.

“I’ve no real love for the DUP or any political party in Northern Ireland, but this makes Sinn Fein’s talk of respect and equality seem hollow.

“It should not be acceptable in 2018 to use disability as a slur or insult. This is stigmatising people with autism.”

Calling for Mr Meagher to issue an apology, Mr Hendry added: “Society’s perception of autism has changed a lot in recent years but it is comments like this which show me there is still a long way to go. It is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.”

Mr Meagher faced a barrage of criticism on social media, with many calling him to retract his article and apologise.

The News Letter reached out to Mr Meagher for a comment yesterday, but we received no response at the time of going to press.