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Conscience clause bill gets 'huge support' following Ashers verdict, says MLA

By Noel McAdam

Published 15/06/2015

Paul Givan
Paul Givan

An "overwhelming majority" of respondents to a consultation process appear to be backing DUP plans for 'conscience clause' legislation following the Ashers bakery and 'gay cake' court verdict.

Around 1,200 groups and individuals have spelt out their views in the party's public consultation exercise - a larger response than most government departmental consultations on legislation.

Initial signs are that a vast majority are in support of the proposals for a clause built into equality laws allowing businesses to refuse to provide some services if they clash with their religious convictions.

It will be the next Assembly - after the election currently due in May of 2016 - before the complex legislation is finalised. Already, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance have all said they would block it in the Assembly in its current form.

They, along with Green Party leader Steven Agnew, would trigger a 'petition of concern' which can automatically prevent decisions by requiring majorities of both unionists and nationalists before a measure can pass.

Paul Givan, the DUP MLA championing the conscience clause, is now urging the other parties to consider a broader Bill including political and religious freedoms as well as sexual orientation. "I think people are almost wakening up and realising 'this is happening in Northern Ireland, my own country' and there is almost a degree of shock, from people who just want to go about their ordinary lives and be quiet about their faith," he said.

Mr Givan intends to reveal the full details of his consultation - and the next steps he intends to take - before the end of the current Assembly term, in less than a month. But he told the Belfast Telegraph he had received 1,200 responses, hundreds of which - as many as half - have been handwritten. "An overwhelming majority of respondents are in favour of what I was proposing," he told the Belfast Telegraph."

Mr Givan revealed he has spoken to the head of the Equality Commission, Michael Wardlow, which brought the court case against Ashers bakery, which refused to produce a cake order with the slogan supporting gay marriage.

"(Mr) Wardlow recognises that there needs to be a conversation now on how we manage these tensions over different rights."

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