Jim Wells may have resigned as Northern Ireland’s Health Minister but politicians in his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) still boast bigotry towards gays, women and Muslims. On these issues, they echo the British National Party (BNP) and European fascist organisations like Golden Dawn.
Only this week, the massive DUP vote against same-sex marriage ensured that for the fourth time Northern Irish gay couples will be denied the right to marry the person they love.
It is scarcely believable and totally appalling that David Cameron and the Conservatives are contemplating a post-election deal with this unrepentant party of prejudice.
Last April, the Prime Minister hoisted a drinks reception for DUP MPs at Downing Street. DUP MP Sammy Wilson admitted his party was being “courted, tested and probed” on their attitude to a pact with the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament. The buttering up has continued disgracefully ever since.
It is time David Cameron said loud and clear that there will be no parliamentary arrangement, formal or informal, with the DUP until it ditches its anti-human rights agenda.
But don’t hold your breath. The Tories are desperate to hang on to power, so my guess is that after 7 May they’ll try to do deal with the Northern Ireland’s main pro-discrimination party.
This will deservedly shatter David Cameron’s liberal credentials and revive the negative image of the Tories as the “nasty” party – or at least a party willing to collude with some very nasty DUP politicians.
The DUP is desperate too. Ian Paisley Jr made a pathetic, opportunistic appeal for gay people who are pro-union to vote DUP in the general election, despite having previously derided same-sex relationships as “immoral, offensive and obnoxious.” What gall. The man has no shame.
A renewed focus on the intolerant die-hards of the DUP has been prompted by Jim Wells’s outrageous slur at last week’s election hustings, where he candidly let slip the party’s long standing homophobia: “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected,” he said.
Following the outcry over these appalling untrue slurs, Wells resigned as a minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. But he refused to step down as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Moreover, despite his bigoted opinions, he hasn’t been expelled from the DUP. In fact, after he made his outrageous homophobic comments and then hastily apologised following widespread public revulsion, Wells was given full backing by the leader of the DUP and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, who had been happy at the time for him to continue as Health Minister.
Then it got worse, with revelations that “Jim Wells had allegedly insulted a lesbian couple “while canvassing for votes; reportedly claiming that he disagreed with their “lifestyle choice.” Aside from his bare-faced homophobia, it is factually wrong to claim that sexual orientation is a chosen lifestyle.
In a damning indictment of the homophobic prejudice that is routinely stirred up by DUP politicians, the lesbian couple were too distressed and afraid to be interviewed. Their daughter had to speak on their behalf, and even then had her identity anonymised because the family feared reprisal anti-gay insults and violence. This is the climate of homophobia and fear that exists in Northern Ireland for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Northern Ireland is, however, part of the UK, not a region of Russia or Uganda.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph last week, Siobhan Fenton expressed dismay at the intolerant policies and views of senior DUP politicians:
“Coming from Northern Ireland and being represented by a DUP MP, I know first-hand how suffocating it is to live under the far-right political party who hold as core values distrust and disgust of anyone who isn’t a white, Northern Irish, Protestant male,” she said.
While not all DUP members and politicians show such unsavoury prejudice, many of the key people do.
DUP leader, Peter Robinson, was accused of anti-Muslim prejudice in 2014 after he defended a Protestant pastor, James McConnell, who denounced Islam as “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell.” Robinson lauded McConnell as “someone who preaches the gospel.”
Fenton noted that the DUP has also been widely condemned for its sexist attitudes. All of its 16 general election candidates are men. One of them, the current MP Ian Paisley Jr, appeared to abuse as a cow a female member of the Women’s Coalition. He shamelessly shouted “moo moo” at her during the peace process talks.
Paisley’s DUP colleague, Sammy Wilson MP, made misogynistic jibes about the looks of two women Northern Irish ministers: “The other two Sinn Fein ministers are two women. I can’t remember their names but their sister’s called Cinderella.”
The DUP has a four-decade history of supporting discrimination against Northern Ireland’s LGBT community. For many years, it backed the total criminalisation of homosexuality, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The DUP resisted tooth and nail the partial decriminalisation of 1982; spearheading a vicious “Save Ulster From Sodomy” campaign that demonised and vilified LGBT people.
The party’s strident anti-gay agenda led to its MPs voting in the House of Commons “against every LGBT law reform of the last 16 years, as documented by Stephen Donnan “, the Northern Irish correspondent for Eile Magazine. They trooped through the lobby to vote in favour of retaining the legal right to discriminate against LGBT people in the military, education, adoption, employment, the age of consent, housing, IVF treatment, transgender recognition, criminal law and professional services.
Successive DUP Health Ministers have maintained a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual blood donors; acting against the medical advice that led to the easing of the ban in England, Wales and Scotland. For many years the DUP opposed the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, the introduction of civil partnerships and the holding of LGBT Pride parades in cities like Belfast. It is currently backing the so-called “conscience clause” Bill, which would allow religious persons to discriminate against LGBT people; including denying them service in hotels, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities.
No wonder many people see the DUP as the Northern Irish equivalent of the BNP.
David Cameron and the Tories should declare that there will be no post-election deal until the DUP embraces respect and equality for all the people of Northern Ireland.