A public consultation on a long-delayed strategy to underpin the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland is set to start next week.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt welcomed the fact a consultation on a draft strategy was now starting, but regretted the delay.

“This is not consulting on the strategy document, this is a pre-consultation phase, it will last 12 weeks, it will inevitably lead to protracted analysis,” he said.

“So I fear we won’t see the strategy itself until 2015 potentially. That tells you, I think, that there are significant differences between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.”

Democratic Unionist Party minister Jonathan Bell was quizzed about the long delay in the Northern Ireland Assembly last Monday.

He refused to be drawn on whether religious concerns among DUP members may explain the six-year delay in the launch of the strategy.

In January 2013, Mr Bell called for a “tolerant and inclusive” Northern Ireland, whilst at the same time stating his opposition to equal marriage.

He said: “Marriage is defined, and has been from 1866 in law since Hyde vs Hyde, as a union between a man and a woman” adding that “in terms of equality, in terms of human rights everything that is in marriage is available to a gay couple through civil society, there is no need to redefine marriage to have a tolerant and inclusive society.”

The DUP is known for its public statements against LGBT equality and has repeatedly blocked motions to debate legalising equal marriage at Stormont.

DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots unsuccessfully fought against extending adoption rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland and remains in favour of maintaining restrictions on gay men donating blood in the province.