Ian Paisley Jnr’s announcement today that he is to resign from the Northern Ireland Executive has been welcomed by groups working for gay equality in the province.
Mr Paisley Jnr was a junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the department responsible for equality in the power-sharing executive.
He resigned today amid allegations that he lobbied on behalf of a property developer in relation to a £50m government land deal in his constituency close the Giant’s Causeway, a world heritage site.
He denies any wrongdoing and will remain in post until a replacement is appointed.
He was appointed a junior minister by his father, Democratic Unionist First Minister Ian Paisley Snr, and represents North Antrim in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In May 2007 he caused outrage with homophobic comments he made in a magazine interview.
He told Hotpress magazine that lesbians and gay men harm society and he is repulsed by them.
The Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO), established by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans groups in the province to provide a voice for the LGBT community, welcomed his departure.
CoSO co-chairs James Knox and Mairead McCafferty told PinkNews.co.uk:
“Whilst CoSO welcomes Mr Paisley Jnr’s resignation, we do believe that his position became untenable last summer following his comments published in Hotpress magazine.
“We believe that this development now creates a positive opportunity for all MLA’s (Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly) and the Executive in Stormont to review their standards and policies on issues of hate crime and hate speech, to ensure that they are as robust as they can be, as currently they are not.”
Last year Mr Paisley was nominated for the Bigot of the Year at the Stonewall Awards because of his homophobic comments.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“Fans of Dad’s Army will recall Corporal Jones saying, “they don’t like it up ’em,” and it seems that someone who has been relentlessly prepared to cause distress to other people is hugely sensitive to criticism of himself.
“Happily we are aware of politician from both the religious communities in Northern Ireland who support equality, and we trust they will continue to do so.”
There were persitent calls for Mr Paisley’s resignation after his homophobic outburst.
The normally mild-mannered Church of Ireland newspaper, The Gazette, said in an editorial in July:
“His comments are a complete disgrace to the Stormont administration and reflect sheer crassness.
“Not only should Mr Paisley apologise but, if he cannot, he should resign as a junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.”
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.”
In September the Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman ruled that Mr Paisley Jnr did not break the code of conduct.
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 apologise or resign, he defended his homophobia in a Radio 4 documentary, The House I Grew Up In, in which he claimed that his views were backed by the Bible, and he was entitled to express them.