Lord Kilclooney scolded for describing Kamala Harris as ‘the Indian’

Peer denies racist suggestion but British Labour MP convinced ‘action must be taken’

Lord Kilclooney: ‘I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood.’ File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Lord Kilclooney: ‘I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood.’ File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Lord Kilclooney, the former Ulster Unionist Party MP John Taylor, has come in for renewed criticism after he described the United States vice-president elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.

He was previously rebuked when in 2018 he referred to the then taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a “typical Indian”.

On Monday Lord Kilclooney posted a tweet asking, “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”

The British Labour MP and shadow spokesman for schools, Wes Streeting, said “action must be taken” against Lord Kilclooney.

“He did it before to Leo Varadkar and now he’s done it to Kamala Harris. This sort of racism would be unacceptable from anyone, but from a member of the House of Lords it beggars belief,” said Mr Streeting.

The Conservative chairman of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs committee said Lord Kilclooney’s remarks were: “Bad. Rude. Racist. Appalling.” He added that he had submitted a formal complaint to the Lord Speaker’s office

Following other criticism Lord Kilclooney, in a series of responding tweets, said he called Ms Harris “the Indian” because he did not know her name. He rejected any suggestions that he was racist.

William Crawley, the presenter of BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme tweeted Lord Kilclooney to explain that Ms Harris, who is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, “is an American” and that the US constitution is clear about what happens.

“Why do many media commentators then describe her as a black person – that is pure racism!” replied Lord Kilclooney.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said Lord Kilclooney’s comments were “reprehensible”.

“There is simply no excuse for it. He should delete what he has said and apologise. This isn’t the first time he has done something like this, but it should be the last,” he said.

House of Lords speaker Norman Fowler said Lord Kilclooney should retract and apologise. “This is an offensive way to refer to anyone, let alone a woman who has just made history. The comment is entirely unacceptable and has no place in British politics. I could not be clearer,” he added.

Subsequently, the 82-year-old crossbench peer – who is no longer a member of the UUP – bowed to this pressure. He wrote: “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. I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood. Racist NO.”

A spokesman for the US consulate in Belfast declined to comment.

It is understood that were president-elect Joe Biden to “move on”, Ms Harris would have the discretion to appoint her own vice-president but that her nomination would have to be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Varadkar episode

In 2018, after referring to Mr Varadkar as “the Indian”, Lord Kilclooney insisted he was not being racist.

“It is not racially abusive as he himself has confirmed he is half Indian. That is great and not to be dismissed as Indians are a great race. However he has damaged North/South relations by being continually offensive and provocative to the Unionist majority in NIreland.”

Mr Varadkar declined to respond apart from saying he at first thought he was dealing with a “parody” Twitter account.

On Monday Peter Osborne, a former chairman of the North’s Parades Commission and Community Relations Council suggested Lord Kilclooney was engaging in a “wind up”.

“Seriously John?” he tweeted. “I’m aware you a) like to wind up, and b) already know the answer to the question you pose. You don’t need to offend. You’re better than that.”