Nelson McCausland is determined to make Northern Ireland one of the most welcoming destinations in the world. But don’t expect the new Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister’s own welcome mat to extend to the homosexual community.
Mr McCausland’s views on that subject mirror those of several of his high-profile DUP colleagues.
And, despite his elevation to what many regard as the ‘Minister of Fun’ role, there won’t be much support for ‘amusements’ such as the annual Gay Pride parade in Belfast.
“I think my views on homosexuality are very well known,” the 58-year-old said.
“I would not be a supporter of Gay Pride, and I think that in spite of attempts to portray it as an event that’s going to boost the country and increase the number of major events in the city, I think the majority of people in Northern Ireland would have great reservations and in many cases strong opposition to it.
“I believe it is the will of God that relationships should be heterosexual. I believe that’s what God intended and planned. But I would not treat anyone unfairly.
“I would not seek to do anyone any harm and I hope that homosexual people who have had dealings with me in the past would confirm that was the case.”
The Ballysillan native — married for 35 years — hit out at hate crimes against homosexuals.
“Hatred is hatred and a hate crime is wrong, whether it be directed against a person because of their sexuality, their religion, their ethnicity, whatever,” he said.
As an ex-Northern Ireland secretary of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, the former physics and RE teacher believes Sundays should be a day of rest.
“I wouldn’t attend any sporting events on Sunday. It was the position of my predecessor Gregory Campbell and his predecessor Edwin Poots, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. I think people would be surprised and disappointed if I were to change my position on that,” he said.
The Oxford graduate also revealed he has already attended a GAA match — a few weeks ago in Canada — and said he hasn’t ruled out going to another.
“I was in Vancouver at the world police and fire games, the Northern Ireland fire brigade GAA team was playing in a competition there and I went along to see them,” he said, adding: “I made it perfectly clear at the beginning there are only two GAA issues — the game being played on a Sunday and the grounds which have been named after terrorists.”
The minister caused a furore recently when he admitted he didn’t know who the current all-Ireland football champions (Tyrone) were, adding that he didn’t know who the Irish squash champions were either.
Looking back, he doesn’t regret how he handled the situation.
“There are a large number of sports played here, and I think it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to have an expertise in all of them,” he said. “I see no difficulty with what I said. I don’t regret it. I don’t think any of the people in the GAA will have lost a minute’s sleep over it. I don’t think the folks at the head of the GAA were terribly perturbed.”
Mr McCausland admits to having a very tolerant wife.
Mary (56) is a former radiographer who has been fighting a serious illness over the last decade but, according to her husband, is “a lot better” of late.
“Mary has been extremely tolerant of the demands on my time. We share a common Christian faith and that has been central to our lives,” he said. “Christian teaching, youth work and music [they have no children] has certainly strengthened our relationship.”
Mr McCausland doesn’t believe Northern Ireland’s recent negative publicity — for example, when more than 100 Romanian families were forced to flee from racist attacks — will detract from it as a world-class destination.
“The things we have as problems in our society are not in any way unique to us but that doesn’t mean that you simply tolerate them, you seek to address them,” he said.
“What people want to see when they come here is the local character, colour and culture. Soon we will have the reopening of the Ulster Museum, we have the Ulster Hall open again as a venue.
“It’s that sort of colour and character that people want. Something that’s different.
“That’s where Northern Ireland scores because we have a cultural mix here that is unique — but there’s work to be done in making that vibrant, alive and accessible for visitors.”