East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has defended an online remark in which he referenced ‘Assembly jihadists’.
Mr Wilson sparked a backlash on Twitter last Friday when he tweeted: “Interrogated at behest of Assembly jihadists by watchdog D Bain for being nasty to J Allister. Starting free speech campaign: Je Suis Sammy.”
The comment refers to an investigation by the Assembly Standards Commissioner over remarks Mr Wilson made last October when he called TUV leader Jim Allister a “thug”.
‘Je Suis Sammy’, meanwhile, parodies the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’, which arose following the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo Paris offices earlier this month.
On Monday, East Antrim MLA and Alliance Chief Whip Stewart Dickson indicated he had lodged an official complaint over the comment. He added: “This remark is in bad taste as it compares this investigation to the recent murders in Paris.
“The remark by Sammy Wilson is extremely tasteless given the 17 people who were murdered in Paris and the ongoing threat by Islamic State. The ‘Je Suis Charlie’ phrase became the global response to the despicable scenes in France, so for Sammy Wilson to make his own version for a relatively trivial matter is disrespectful to those who lost their lives at Charlie Hebdo.
“I hope that he will retract this remark and apologise for the offence that he has caused. As an elected representative he should be mindful of what he says. Politicians should be held to the highest standards.
“I have raised this matter in the Assembly and have written to the Assembly Ombudsman, as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons where Mr Wilson is an MP.”
Speaking to the Times on Monday, Mr Wilson refused to withdraw the remarks, claiming the tweet was intended as a humorous parody. Referring to the original investigation by the Commissioner, he said: “The point was to mock those who go running to the authorities to try and shut people up; it was put in a humorous way but with a serious message. I make no bones about mocking the people who want to limit what can be said in a debating chamber; it is up to the Speaker to determine what is unparliamentary language.
“The whole point of the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ slogan was that people should have the freedom to express themselves, even if it meant annoying others.
“I won’t withdraw the comment, and I can’t understand how people who are using ‘Je Suis Charlie’ as the catcall for free speech do not see the irony of attacking me for using mine.”
Addressing the use of the term ‘jihadists’, the DUP representative added: “There are people who have a very restricted view of language; in this context I was referring to political jihadists - those people who are against political freedom. The vast majority of people who go on Twitter are looking to be offended; they are entitled to their view but I’m entitled to mine.
“There’s a lot of political grandstanding and faux anger about this, but there are far more important issues to be debated.”