Only Chinese-born parliamentarian in UK to quit politics over racist abuse
Anna Lo says she will not run again for the centrist Alliance party and may leave Northern Ireland because of loyalists' abuse
The UK's only Chinese-born parliamentarian is leaving Northern Ireland politics because of continued racist abuse by loyalists.
Anna Lo said she had had enough of the attacks and would not run again for the centrist Alliance party in the next round of Stormont assembly elections in 2016.
Hong Kong-born Lo, a Northern Ireland resident for four decades, said she was also considering leaving for good because of enduring sectarianism and now rising racism.
Lo, who represents South Belfast in the regional parliament, also cited first minister Peter Robinson's support for a born-again Christian preacher's depiction of Islam as "the spawn of the devil" as a reason for wanting out of Ulster politics.
She is the first Chinese-born politician ever to have been elected to a British regional assembly or parliament.
In an interview with the Guardian on Thursday, Lo, said she had been shaken by a recent incident during the European election campaign when a loyalist mob followed her out of an east Belfast shopping centre.
"They started hurling abuse at me and I decided to get out of Connswater shopping centre as quickly as possible. About three or four individuals then followed me to the car park but I kept ahead of them walking as quickly as I could. Even when I got inside my car there was a young girl who climbed out of the wound-down window of a parked car and started shouting vile things at me. If I hadn't decided to act quickly and get out of there I don't know what would have happened to me."
She also revealed that her two sons had been trying to persuade her to join them in England because of their concerns for her safety.
"What can I do? I know they are worried about me but I have just bought a house and I have so many friends here. But I am seriously considering it."
The Alliance party's European election candidate, who gained 44,432 first preference votes in the poll last week, was scathing about Robinson's support for Pastor James McConnell, who denounced Islam as evil during a sermon a fortnight ago.
"To support a lunatic who makes remarks like that is adding fuel to the flames in Northern Ireland.
"In the last few weeks there have been two to three racist incidents per day in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.
"And it isn't just Peter Robinson who is supporting this man. Sammy Wilson [the former Democratic Unionist party Stormont minister] and Edwin Poots [the DUP's health minister in the power-sharing executive] are supporting this preacher."
Lo, 63, moved to Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in 1974 after meeting a local man while working in London.
She initially worked on Chinese language programmes for the BBC and then in 1978 started the first evening class for Chinese immigrants living in Northern Ireland. A qualified social worker, she worked for the Chinese Welfare Association in Belfast and was later the first vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.
She was made an MBE in 1999 for work with the Chinese immigrant community and entered local politics in 2007, standing for the nonsectarian Alliance party in the assembly elections. She was elected to the Stormont parliament and re-elected in the South Belfast constituency four years later, when she topped the poll.
During the recent European election campaign she provoked controversy by telling a Belfast newspaper, the Irish News, that she believed the region's best long-term prospects lay in a united Ireland. "I've had enough of the inability of this society and its political leaders to escape from the past," she said on Thursday. "And what's worse is the rising racism in our community. I have been living here for 40 years and this has forced me out of politics, and made me think about getting out of Northern Ireland altogether. So what must immigrants who have come here only recently think about this place?"
The first minister on Thursday sought to defuse a toxic political row that further polluted relations between himself and his power sharing partners, most crucially deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.
Robinson said he had not meant to insult Islam when he defended McConnell's comments and stated himself that he would not trust any Muslim who adhered to sharia law.
The Democratic Unionist leader claimed his original remarks had been misinterpreted.
He added: "For the avoidance of any doubt, I make it clear that I welcome the contribution made by all communities in Northern Ireland, and in the particular circumstances, the Muslim community.
"I very much value their contribution at every level to our society and I will take the opportunity to meet with local Muslim leaders to demonstrate my ongoing support for them as integral law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland."
On Thursday night, Muslim representatives said that they have received and accepted an apology from Robinson.
Three members of Belfast's Islamic Centre met the leader at Stormont Castle.
Their spokesman, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, said: "We accepted an apology in private and for us that was a sincere apology and we accepted it."
A further statement issued by the DUP after the meeting said Robinson was willing to apologise to anyone who had been hurt or distressed by his comments.
A party spokesman said the meeting had been "valuable, friendly and relaxed".
"Mr Robinson outlined his views and made it clear that there was never any intention on his part to offend or cause distress to anyone. He said that if anyone interpreted his remarks in that way that he would apologise to them and that he would welcome the opportunity to continue conversations at the Belfast Islamic Centre. Robinson also came under fire from a highly decorated army officer recently elected as an Ulster Unionist Party councillor.
Doug Beattie, who won a Military Cross in Afghanistan, said it was wrong to generalise about all Muslims. "The most bravest, noble man I ever met in my life was a Muslim, an Afghan army major who during 13 days of fighting the Taliban in 2006 saved my life and lost his own during battle," Councillor Beattie said.