The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland has assured gay and lesbian people that their rights will be upheld despite the hostile comments of a junior minister.
Martin McGuinness said that Ian Paisley Jnr was not speaking on behalf of the devolved administration when he said that he found homosexuals repulsive.
The Sinn Fein politician told listeners to The Nolan Show: “Gay rights are enshrined in legislation and we as first and deputy first minister have a duty to uphold that.”
There has been concern at Mr Paisley’s remarks because the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, where he is a junior minister, is responsible for ensuring equality for gay people.
Mr Paisley Jnr is a member of the DUP representing Antrim North in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
He was appointed to the government job by his father, First Minister Ian Paisley Snr, only three weeks ago.
Mr Paisley, 41, told Hotpress magazine:
“I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.
“That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”
Mr McGuinness, who is also an MP, commented:
“The responsibility to deal with this is with the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFDFM), it lies primarily with Ian Paisley Snr.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do but I certainly think that we have a problem insofar as a junior minister in that department has expressed views which are a total contradiction of everything that the OFDFM is charged to do in terms of protecting the rights of all sorts of people within our society, including minorities.”
Other parties have lambasted Mr Paisley’s homophobic remarks and called on him to be sacked.
SDLP’s equality spokeswoman, Dolores Kelly, told the BBC:
“Vulnerable groups who are potential victims of discrimination should be able to look to him for help, not attack.
“If he cannot leave his extreme personal views outside his office, he must be kept away from any decisions which may be affected by those views.”
Northern Ireland gay rights activist Andrew Muir pointed out that Mr Paisley’s comments could cause harm, despite his protestations that he does not hate gay people.
“Our research proves that 29% of young people have actually attempted suicide because of homophobia in society and I think these comments are very concerning.”