Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Race Row in Dispute over Council Changes; MP Demands Apology over Irish Roots Slur in Leaflet

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Race Row in Dispute over Council Changes; MP Demands Apology over Irish Roots Slur in Leaflet

Article excerpt

Byline: By Neil McKay

A LEADING councillor has become embroiled in a race row after distributing a leaflet referring to her MP's Irish roots.

Durham Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods is demanding an apology from local councillor, Carol Woods (no relation).

And the leaflet, referring to Ms Blackman-Woods as an "outsider" because she was "born and bred in Belfast" was also criticised by a race relations organisation.

It was posted by the Liberal Democrats to homes throughout Durham City urging them to sign a petition to "Defend Democracy in Durham" by demanding the government scraps controversial plans for a single unitary authority.

Coun Woods, deputy leader of the council, who was the Liberal Democrat candidate defeated by Ms Blackman-Woods in the last parliamentary election, said: "Durham City's New Labour MP was born and bred in Belfast and it is clear she is out of touch with the views of local people. I would call on all local residents to sign this petition against the Unitary Authority to show these outsiders who threaten our jobs and services that we are not prepared to give up without a fight."

But a furious Ms Blackman-Woods contacted the Darlington and Durham Racial Equality Council, describing the comments as "thinly-veiled racism and unwelcoming and offensive language in a personal attack."

She said: "The Lib Dems have offended anyone who fell in love with Durham as a student or adult and chose to make it their home, by branding them as 'outsiders'. Thinly-veiled racist remarks like that are unacceptable.

"Local people are very warm, friendly and welcoming, like everywhere else in the North-East, and the sentiments expressed by Coun Woods certainly don't reflect my experience having lived here for 25 years."

Mariom Khan-Willis, the Chair of the Darlington and Durham Racial Equality Council, said: "Coun Woods is criticising the MP, not for her stance on a particular issue, which would, of course, be perfectly acceptable political campaigning, but because she was born in Belfast. …

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