The BBC has apologised for a Question Time production gaffe that saw a Stormont minister labelled as being a member of “Sinn Fein/IRA”.
Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd, who was a panelist on last night’s show in Belfast, was referred to by the term in a seating plan.
The title directly linking the republican party to the paramilitary organisation has long been used in a pejorative way by members of the unionist/loyalist community in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, which while closely associated with the Provisional IRA during the Troubles has always insisted it was a separate and solely political organisation, claims the tag was created to justify attacks on its members in the conflict.
The BBC said the seating plan, which was attached to a camera in the studio, was written by a “technical staff” member working on the programme.
It was not broadcast during the transmission but an audience member took a picture of the plan and tweeted it.
The BBC admitted the wording was “insensitive and naive”.
“The BBC is very sorry for any offence caused,” said a statement from the corporation.
“The note was written by one of the technical staff on the programme for his own use.
“It was not authorised or endorsed by anyone on Question Time. The person responsible has been left in no doubt that it was insensitive and extremely naive.
“We are sure viewers of last night’s programme will be clear that this note had absolutely no bearing on the content of the show.”
Question Time is produced by independent company Mentorn.
Mr O’Dowd had earlier demanded an explanation.
“Last night I had agreed to take part in the Question Time programme on the basis of respect and equality,” he said.
“After the programme was finished I was made aware of the floor plan pinned to a camera branding me a member of ’SF/IRA!’.
“This was not on the floor plan previously shown to me before filming.
“This is a serious issue. The SF/IRA tag was one created at the height of the unionist murder campaign against my party colleagues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was an attempt to justify attacks on Sinn Fein members and our families. For the BBC to adopt the tag 20 years into a peace process is beyond belief.
“Last night we lodged a formal complaint with the BBC in Belfast seeking an immediate explanation for the sign and what action is to be taken against those behind it.”
Mr O’Dowd said he would not let the corporation sweep the issue under the carpet.
But Ulster Unionist Assembly member Tom Elliott questioned Mr O’Dowd’s stance.
“For a Sinn Fein representative to ask why that party would be linked to the IRA is utterly laughable,” he said.
“If this is evidence of Sinn Fein wishing to distance itself from the murderous activities of the IRA then that is of course to be welcomed.
“The trail of death and destruction wreaked across Northern Ireland, into the UK Mainland, the Republic of Ireland and even further afield is something which any right thinking person or political party should be ashamed of.”