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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Indian slur by peer at centre of Qatar controversy

Qatar-supporting parliamentarian uses ‘typical Indian’ comment to castigate Irish leader

Lord Kilclooney referred to Leo Varadkar (pictured) as a "typical Indian". Aidan Crawley/ Bloomberg
Lord Kilclooney referred to Leo Varadkar (pictured) as a "typical Indian". Aidan Crawley/ Bloomberg

A UK peer, who took a Qatar-funded trip to Doha last year, faced criticism on Tuesday after he lashed out at the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, who is descended from an Indian father.

Lord Kilclooney, a former senior politician from Northern Ireland, tweeted that Dr Varadkar was a “typical Indian” in response to an online article that reported on a backlash against the Irish prime minister’s latest cross-border trip.

The 80-year-old last year joined a Qatar funded trip by members of the House of Lords to Doha and afterwards made comments calling for the end of the boycott of the state by the Arab Quartet. He told The National he was “horrified” by the problems presented to him in Qatar.

His latest derogatory Indian comment targeting Dr Varadkar attracted cross-party condemnation in Northern Ireland including from members of his former party, the Ulster Unionists.

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA said the life peer, “doesn’t speak for me”, while former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the comment could only be interpreted as racist.

Sinn Fein MLA Michaela Boyle has called for Lord Kilclooney to be reprimanded for his remark.

“As @sinnfeinireland spokesperson on ethnic minorities I am horrified at the racist & offensive remarks on twitter by @KilclooneyJohn His disgusting sentiments must be challenged by all & as someone in a public role he must be reprimanded! Completely unacceptable!” Ms Boyle tweeted.

Dr Varadkar was born in Dublin and trained as a medic before becoming Taoiseach (prime minister) in June 2017. His father is from India and his mother is from Ireland.

Lord Kilclooney has since defended his comment on Twitter, which at the time of writing has not been withdrawn, denying the racism charge.

He wrote: “I am certainly no racist and in particular have an admiration for Indians.a member of the British/Indian APPG only yesterday I had a reply from 10 Downing St asking for a relaxation of visas for Indians. My point was that the PM had upset Unionists more than Irish PMs had!”

In one of a flurry of tweets responding to criticism, Lord Kilclooney then widened his speculation about ethnic attitudes. “Most Indians like English;Pakistanis etc etc have no understanding of politics in Ireland and, understandably, they do not want to! Only the Irish have a real understanding!”

This is the second time in six months the parliamentarian has referred to Dr Varadkar as “Indian” on Twitter.

Last November, Lord Kilclooney withdrew a tweet in which he called Dr Varadkar simply “the Indian” while commenting on a story involving Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney.

"Simon Coveney is stirring things up. Very dangerous non-statesman like role! Clearly hoping to undermine the Indian," he wrote.

The peer later clarified his position in a further tweet, explaining that he had used the term because he was limited on characters.

"This has caused upset and misunderstanding and so I withdraw it. I am no way racist and accept that Varadkar is 100 percent Irish Citizen," he said.

Lord Kilclooney did not respond to requests for comment by The National on Tuesday.

The peer has caused controversy throughout his political career. Last year he visited Doha with fellow parliamentarians Grahame Morris MP, Lord Nazir Ahmed and Lord Qurban Hussain.

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The Qatari authorities used the trip to falsely claim that Britain had sent a committee to investigate so-called human rights abuses imposed on Qatar through the Arab quartet’s blockade.

Lord Kilclooney denied signing a report titled “Human Rights Implications of the Blockade on Qatar”, as was claimed by Qatar’s National Human Rights Council (NHRC). However he did not repudiate the claims in the report in a subsequent email exchange with The National.

One of the delegation, Lord Ahmed said the purpose of the visit, which was not an official one, was to look into Qatar’s own progress on human rights in particular relation to the rights of construction workers.