Prime Minister Gordon Brown has rejected calls from almost 16,000 people to reprimand Strangford MP Iris Robinson over her controversial comments on homosexuality.
Mr Brown said there is “no constitutional role for the Prime Minister to reprimand individual Members of Parliament who are accountable to their electorate for their own comments.”
He did, however, say that the Government’s vision is an “equal, inclusive society in Northern Ireland, where everyone is treated with respect and where opportunity for all remains a priority”, adding that anyone who feels they have been discriminated against may be able to bring a complaint to a tribunal or a court.
The Prime Minister also said public authorities are required to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between different groups, including sexual orientation.
Mrs Robinson sparked outrage when she stated during a parliamentary debate on the management of sex offenders that homosexuality was “viler” than child sex abuse, as revealed by the Belfast Telegraph.
The First Minister’s wife then told this newspaper she meant homosexuality and child abuse were “comparable”, and later said her comments had been inaccurately transcribed in the record of the committee debate.
Hansard, which publishes transcripts of all public debates in UK government, said it was happy the transcription was accurate after reviewing tapes.
Previously the DUP assemblywoman stated that homosexuality was an “abomination” and it could be cured through psychiatric counselling. Complaints were made to a Westminster watchdog about the remarks but the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the body that monitors MPs’ code of conduct, said that nothing could be done as “the commissioner’s remit does not cover an MP’s views or opinions”. The same exemption extends to Stormont.
A total of 15,703 people signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling on Gordon Brown to reprimand Mrs Robinson over her comments. The petition stated that the comments “are not fitting of a MLA let alone an MP. They show narrow-minded views and the belief that in Northern Ireland that bigotry is acceptable”.
Responding to the petition yesterday, Mr Brown said while there is no constitutional role for him to reprimand individual Members of Parliament, the Government “is committed to strong equality legislation in Northern Ireland and citizens in Northern Ireland are protected against discrimination on grounds of race, religious belief or political opinion, gender, sexual orientation, age or because of a disability”.
He added: “If anyone in Northern Ireland believes that they have been discriminated against on any of these grounds they may be able to bring a complaint to a tribunal or to a county court. Further details are available from the Equality Commission whose website is at www.equalityni.org.
“In respect of sexual orientation specifically, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 make it unlawful for employers and others to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, vocational training and further and higher education.”
Mrs Robinson has said her remarks are based on scripture and that she is not hate-mongering. She also said she would not leave her Christian beliefs at the door when she goes into politics.