Veteran unionist politician John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, has been accused of making racist remarks on social media after he referred to Leo Varadkar as a "typical Indian".
Responding to a tweet from BBC Newsline that featured the headline "DUP: Varadkar's visit to Northern Ireland showed 'disrespect'", Lord Kilclooney tweeted on Monday afternoon the Taoiseach was a "typical Indian".
After being accused by a Twitter user of hate crime, the former Ulster Unionist Party MP and MEP wrote: "I have great admiration for Indian people and am active member of British/Indian APPG [All-Party Parliamentary Groups] I help Indians very often Indeed today I had a letter from 10 Downing St to acknowledge my representations to have visa restrictions on Indians relaxed!!".
When asked to explain the term “typical Indian”, Lord Kilclooney wrote it was “typical of this particular half Indian”.
He continued: “No Irish PM has previously ignored the normal courtesies of visiting the UK.
“He [Mr Varadkar] fails to understand that he constantly antagonises Unionist feelings and is damaging the improved North/South relations which resulted from the [Belfast] agreement.”
The 80-year-old peer defended his use of the term Indian, saying Mr Varadkar was “racially a half Indian and proud of it” and that there was “nothing racist about it - simply factual”.
He tweeted: “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.”
The Taoiseach declined to respond in detail to the reference to Lord Kilclooney’s comments.
Asked about it in the Dail on Tuesday, Leo Varadkar said he had seen Lord Kilclooney’s tweet.
“I had thought it was a parody account, but seemingly it is not,’’ he added.
“It is for real…that is all I will say about it.’’
Earlier Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said Lord Kilclooney's remarks were "obnoxious, racially charged and very discourteous'' and should be absolutely rejected.
“In my experience, such remarks do not represent the attitude of the vast majority of the people from any side of the community, where people carry themselves with considerably more dignity and courtesy than that,’’ she added.
Labour TD Joan Burton said Lord Kilclooney would be well advised to apologise for the slur that he had attempted to cast on the Taoiseach.
“He is an ardent Brexiteer and has very hot feelings about Brexit but that does not permit him to use the kind of language he used yesterday,’’ she added.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted that Lord Kilclooney's language was "a racial slur, insulting of not only the Taoiseach and the Irish people, but of Indian people too. There is no explaining this one away like last time."
Ms Long called for the House of Lords to address Lord Kilclooney’s behaviour on social media. “It is deliberate, calculated disrespect,” she wrote.
Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt also accused Lord Kilclooney of racist language, using the #NotInMyName in a tweet.
Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile tweeted that he was planning to ask the Seanad Cathaoirleach to contact the Speaker of the House of Lords “urging him to take appropriate action regarding yet another offensive tweet from a member of the House of Lords regarding An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar”.
DUP member Christopher Stalford tweeted: “I don’t know what John Taylor thinks he’s playing at but he doesn’t speak for me. Absolutely ridiculous behaviour.”
Alliance Party councillor Emmet McDonough Brown tweeted that “reducing someone to their race denies their humanity & agency and lays prejudice bare. Every generation has to stand against racism and this pound-shop bore should know better by now.”
A spokesman for the House of Lords press office said Lord Kilclooney’s behaviour would only be investigated if they received complaints that he had breached the House of Lords Code of Conduct. If a complaint is raised, the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards would undertake an independent investigation of the alleged breaches, he said.
The House of Lords code of conduct states that members must always act “on their personal honour”. It notes that “members cannot rely simply on their own personal sense of what is honourable. They are required to act in accordance with the standards expected by the House as a whole”.