A Northern Ireland minister responsible for sport has been accused of playing party politics with his recent attack on a gay rugby team.

Edwin Poots said earlier this week that he “cannot fathom” why such a team is necessary and said it was a form of “apartheid.”

Yesterday the executive director of the cross-community Alliance Party claimed that Mr Poots’ comments were made because his party, the DUP, lost a recent council by-election.

“The DUP is a wounded animal at the moment and Poots is thrashing around pandering to their old prejudices,” Gerry Lynch, who is gay, told PA.

“After the good rucking served to the DUP in the Dromore by-election, they are picking on gay people as a way of reconnecting with their base.

“How nasty and spiteful to scapegoat a small minority to make up for their own failings in government.

“All we get from the DUP is negativity in the press and failure to deliver in Stormont. People are getting sick of their behaviour.”

In the by-election a new ultra-Unionist party, Traditional Unionist Voice, ate into the DUP vote. The seat was eventually won by the Ulster Unionist Party.

TUV is led by MEP Jim Allister, who resigned from the DUP in protest at the decision to go into government with Sinn Fein.

He has challenged DUP leader Ian Paisley to state publicly that he will move to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The regulations outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

The UK government imposed them on Northern Ireland in January 2007, before the new DUP/Sinn Fein-led local administration took office.

Mr Lynch compared Mr Poots to another homophobic DUP politician:

“Using this type of prejudice was a favourite tactic of Ian Paisley Jnr.

“Edwin Poots would be well advised not to use that man as a political role model,” he told AP.

In May 2007 Paisley caused outrage with comments he made in a magazine interview that gay people “repulse” him and harm society. He resigned earlier this week after being implicated in a corruption scandal.

The day after the Dromore by-election Mr Poots said he “cannot fathom why people see the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport.

“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 sport, 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.”