The Northern Ireland minister for arts and culture has attacked the formation of a gay rugby team in the province.

Edwin Poots said he “cannot fathom why people see the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport.”

The minister is a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, an organisation notorious for its homophobia.

As a councillor in Lisburn, County Antrim, he tried to ban gay and lesbian couples from holding civil partnerships in the town hall.

He said that the Ulster Titans rugby team, which is based in Belfast, is as unacceptable to him as a all-black rugby team.

“To me it’s equally unacceptable to produce an all-homosexual rugby team and I find it remarkable that people who talk so much about inclusivity and about having an equal role in society would then go down the route of exclusion.”

As minister responsible for arts and culture in Northern Ireland’s devolved administration he had to give a grant to Belfast Pride, which got him into trouble with some of the DUP’s more strident supporters, who regard the event as a “celebration of sodomy.”

The Ulster Titans founder told the BBC:

“When the club was set up it welcomed members regardless of their age, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, and that’s how it continues.

“Yes, it was primarily something established as a vehicle for gay people but that doesn’t mean somebody who isn’t gay can’t join, everyone is welcome.”

Titans club chairman Sean McEvoy told the Belfast News Letter:

“Ostensibly we are a gay team but we are by no means exclusive.

“In fact one of the co-founders of the team was heterosexual.

“Mr Poots’ remarks are ill judged, this is just another example of a short-sighted attitude.”