The Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman has ruled that a junior minister in the province’s government did not break the code of conduct when he called gay people repulsive.

Ian Paisley Jnr, who is the son and namesake of the Democratic Unionist First Minister, told Hotpress magazine in May that lesbians and gay men harm society.

He was appointed a junior minister in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister by his father, the department with responsibility for equality issues. He represents North Antrim in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Paisley, 41, told Hotpress:

“I am, unsurprisingly, a straight person.

“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.”

His comments were heavily criticised by partners in the coalition government in Northern Ireland, including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who assured the gay community that Paisley Jnr was not speaking on behalf of the devolved administration.

Despite calls for him to resign, he defended his homophobia in a Radio 4 documentary, The House I Grew Up In, broadcast last month.

He claimed that his views were backed by the Bible, and he was entitled to express them.

Mr Paisley Snr is head of the Free Presbyterian church, which he founded in 1951.

He led an unsuccessful campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality called “Save Ulster From Sodomy.”

In July 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.”

Mr Paisley Jnr has been nominated for the Stonewall Bigot of the Year award 2007. The winner will be announced at the ceremony in London on November 1st.