A unionist politician from Northern Ireland has launched an extraordinary attack on Senator Ted Kennedy, telling the British parliament that awarding the Senator an honorary knighthood was in “extremely poor taste.”

Sammy Wilson, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Northern Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, accused Kennedy of being an IRA sympathizer.

He said that “a cloud still hangs over” Kennedy, for having been expelled from Harvard and for having fled the scene of a crash at Chappaquiddick, in which a 29-year-old woman died.

Wilson said that Kennedy opposed the sale of U.S. arms to the old Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and that he had called on Protestants to “go back to Britain.”

“Senator Kennedy has consistently supported the political wing of the IRA which for many decades killed a great number of innocent civilians,” Wilson said in a motion calling on the British Government to drop the knighthood plans.

“Senator Kennedy is being awarded a knighthood for services to the U.K-U.S. relationship and services to Northern Ireland despite the fact that he has for many years supported the break-up of the United Kingdom and has explicitly sought to deny the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland by supporting calls for Northern Ireland to cease to exist and become part of the Republic of Ireland.”

Wilson’s motion was supported by his party colleagues.

A number of politicians from the Conservative Party have also questioned the decision to award Kennedy the knighthood. Members of Parliament, Ann and Nicholas Winterton, supported Wilson’s motion.

Lord Tebbit, a former minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, whose wife was confined to a wheelchair after the IRA bombed a party conference in 1984, told the Daily Mail that the knighthood was “wholly inappropriate.”

'Edward Kennedy may never have said outwardly he supported the IRA but he certainly leaned towards extreme Republicanism,” Lord Tebbit said. “He was certainly no friend of the U.K.

Conservative Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe, said: 'It seems to me a bit of an odd choice, but diplomacy has no bounds.'

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced last month in a speech to Congress that the Queen had awarded Kennedy a knighthood.

Kennedy was one of the most “distinguished Senators” who had helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, improved health care for Americans, and education for children around the world, Brown said.

Senator Kennedy’s involvement in Northern Ireland goes back many years. He set up the Congressional Friends of Ireland dedicated to pursuing peace. He was instrumental in bringing about the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, meeting the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, the then Irish Prime Minister, and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.

However, he refused to meet Adams on his U.S. trip in St. Patrick's Day in 2005, because of the IRA murder of Robert McCartney in a Belfast pub.