Gerry Adams has been forced to apologise for using the N-word in a reference to a Quentin Tarantino film about black slavery in America.
The Sinn Fein leader has admitted his controversial tweet – later removed from his Twitter account – was inappropriate but defended his comparison of the treatment of Irish nationalists to African Americans.
“I apologise for any offence caused,” he said.
Mr Adams provoked an angry backlash on Twitter and from political opponents after tweeting on Sunday night about Django Unchained, the Oscar-winning film about slavery in America.
It said: “Watching Django Unchained – A Ballymurphy N*****!” He also referred to the main character as “an uppity Fenian”.
Mr Adams was born in Ballymurphy, a republican heartland of west Belfast.
Speaking outside Sinn Fein’s Belfast headquarters at a hastily arranged press conference on Monday, he admitted deleting the tweet minutes after posting it.
“Django Unchained is a powerful film which highlights the injustices suffered by African Americans through its main character Django,” he said.
“In my tweets I described him as a ‘Ballymurphy n……’ and ‘an uppity Fenian’.
“I have acknowledged that the use of the N-word was inappropriate.
“That is why I deleted the tweet.”
In an earlier statement, Mr Adams had defended his use of the offensive term and said anyone genuinely offended by it either misunderstood him or misrepresented the context.
“Like African Americans, Irish nationalists were denied basic rights,” he said.
“The penal laws, Cromwell’s regime, and partition are evidence of that.
“In our own time, like African Americans, nationalists in the north (of Ireland), including those from Ballymurphy and west Belfast, were denied the right to vote; the right to work; the right to a home; and were subject to draconian laws.
“This changed because we stood up for ourselves. We need to continue to do that.”
Mr Adams said he has ” long been inspired by Harriet Tubman; Frederick Douglass; Rosa Parks; Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who stood up for themselves and for justice”.
The embarrassing gaffe comes as his party and others face elections later this week for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It also comes just weeks after he was accused of comparing himself to civil rights icon Rosa Parks when he was excluded from a St Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House.
After being held up at security in Washington, he left and stated: “Sinn Fein will not sit at the back of the bus for anyone.”
Colum Eastwood, leader of the rival nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, said Mr Adams’ ” public use of a racist slur falls well below the standards demanded by us all”.
“If a similar remark had been made by any other political leader on this island, Sinn Fein would have unleashed an orchestrated wave of angry condemnation,” he said.
“They would not accept any talk of context or of irony. They should hold themselves to the same standard.
“No-one in Ballymurphy or any other area affected by the Troubles will accept this use of language to refer to events here.”
It is not the first time an Irish political leader has been forced to apologise over the use of the N-word.
In 2002, Taoiseach Enda Kenny – then opposition leader – faced calls for his resignation when he recalled at a private function an anecdote about a Moroccan barman “with shiny teeth” in Portugal saying a cocktail called a Lumumba was named after “some n***** who died dans la guerre (in the war)”.
Patrice Lumumba was the assassinated African nationalist who was the Congo’s first democratically elected leader.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt described Mr Adams’ comments as contemptible.
“I find it extraordinary that the leader of a political party can even think to utter the words that he did,” he said.
“To try to liken the fight against slavery to what was happening in Northern Ireland in the 1960s is contemptible.