The DUP’s Iris Robinson last night stoked more political fury after saying she believes the duty of government is to “uphold God's law”.
The remarks by the wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson have led other parties to deny that religion and politics mix in local government.
The row erupted after comments by the DUP chair of the Assembly Health Committee during a debate on abortion, sparked by a column in the Belfast Telegraph by Eamonn McCann.
Mrs Robinson had a heated exchange with Mr McCann on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show after the columnist objected to women in Northern Ireland being singled out in abortion law.
The Strangford MP strongly disagreed and said: “The government has a responsibility to uphold God’s laws morally.”
The comment sparked a huge reaction from listeners.
This is the second time within a number of weeks that remarks made by the Strangford MP have led to controversy.
In June, Mrs Robinson described homosexuality as an “abomination” and suggested gay people could be “turned” hetrosexual with psychiatric help.
PUP leader Dawn Purvis said that while Mrs Robinson is entitled to her views, she respects the principle that religion should be excluded from day-to-day politics.
“If we look at the mix of religion and politics across the world and even in relation to Northern Ireland, politics and religion don’t mix very well,” she said.
“There are good Christian principals that are reflected in our policies but that’s not to say we want to take a step backwards and have government uphold ‘God’s law’.
“We are trying to create a modern society that upholds fundamental freedoms and human rights and interpretation of the Bible would probably go against that.
“But my view would be we have the complete separation of church and state in order to protect people and provide services for people.”
The Alliance Party branded Mrs Robinson’s comments as “yet another embarrassing gaffe”.
Stephen Farry, MLA for North Down, said: “At a time when Northern Ireland is trying to project a modern, progressive image to the rest of the world, it is bizarre for a senior politician from a party in government to say something like this. . .
“But the role of government is to represent the interests of society as a whole, and to protect the rights of every human being.
“As far as possible, there should be a separation between church and state.
“We must recognise that there are radically different interpretations of the Bible, never mind the current reality of a multi-cultural and multi-faith society.”.
Eamonn McCann said Mrs Robinson’s remarks should lead to the Assembly questioning her position in the Health Committee.
“A person who believes what Mrs Robinson said cannot represent all citizens,” he said.
“Also when somebody says they are guided in politics by God, they can’t be a democrat because to go against them is to go against God.
“So very, very serious and fundamental issues are raised by what Mrs Robinson said.”
Mr McCann added: “The Assembly and the Health Committee are going to have to face up to the implications of this and decide what to do.”
The Belfast Telegraph contacted the DUP but the party refused to comment.