Peter Robinson: 'I wouldn't trust Muslims devoted to Sharia Law, but I would trust them to go down to the shops for me'
Peter Robinson caused fresh outcry after he gave an interview to the Irish News in which he defended comments about Islam made by Pastor McConnell. Here are some key extracts from the First Minister's interview
On the Pastor...
"Sometimes there are attempts to demonise people and I see that very much in the way that Pastor McConnell has been treated. I have an advantage over many other people. I have known this man for over 20 years. There isn't an ounce of hatred in his bones, this is somebody who has lived his life for Christ.
"It is a duty of any Christian preacher to denounce or demonise false doctrine. He's perfectly entitled to do that – it's an appropriate thing for a minister to do. It's been happening for generations and nobody should look at that issue.
"This was a preacher speaking to his congregation – both his congregation in terms of of the physical building and his congregation online and the remarks were never intended – as his subsequent statements have made that clear... they were never intended to suggest hatred towards any community and as someone who knows him well knows that he has nothing but Christian love for others.
"He has clarified his comments, he has clarified it in the same way that I have. I wouldn't trust Muslims to give me spiritual advice, I wouldn't trust Muslims who are following Sharia Law to the letter and neither would he.
"However, as I have said in many of the normal daily activities of life, I would have no difficulty in trusting Muslims to go down to the shop for me, to give me the right change, to do a lot of other things, so you do need to define what it is, what you trust people to do or don't.
"I'll be quite honest, I wouldn't trust them in terms of those who have been involved in terrorist activities. I wouldn't trust them if they are devoted to Sharia Law. I wouldn't trust them for spiritual guidance. Would I trust them to go down to the shops for me, yes I would, would I trust them to do day-to-day activities... there is no reason why you wouldn't.
"Can you understand how then you are promoting hatred against politicians by saying that you don't trust politicians? Why are you so concerned about Muslims and not poor people like me?
"I am singled out because I am a politician and I hold certain views. I condemn and he would condemn anyone who would threaten the lives of anyone in the Muslim community.
"You need to define these issues... this is where we have this bogus argument that because someone says I don't trust someone or a group of people that it is a hate crime.
"If it is then I'm going straight away to the police to ask them to take action against all those who say they don't trust politicians – you can't have it both ways.
"If it's a hate crime if you say someone is not trusting a group of people then Stephen Nolan has an awful lot to answer for, because I hear every morning on his programme people who don't trust politicians.
"I think that you must always show love, you must always try to encourage people to accept the real benefits of Christian love and in a society that we have – which is deeply divided – you want to make sure that everyone knows that we fully recognise their individual rights and we will protect those but I think people really do take a molehill and develop it into a massive mountain on these kind of issues."
Ten days of turbulence
Sunday May 18: Pastor James McConnell describes the Islamic faith as “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” at an evening service at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. DUP councillor Guy Spence is among the congregation.
May 21: The Belfast Telegraph puts the matter into the public domain by revealing the hurt and outrage that Pastor McConnell’s remarks have caused to the small Muslim community in Northern Ireland. The story of the controversial comments dominates the headlines all day. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness criticises the preacher and the PSNI says it is investigating the incident. The Muslim community in Northern Ireland asks for an apology from Pastor McConnell but he refuses to withdraw the remarks, saying he will go to prison first.
May 22: A second evangelical preacher, Pastor Paul Burns of Adullam Christian Fellowship Church in Sandy Row, backs Pastor McConnell. The DUP at this time declines to comment despite many of its members being regular attendees at the Whitewell Tabernacle.
May 23: DUP remains silent on the row, although Health Minister Edwin Poots urges others via his Facebook page to pray for Pastor McConnell. Prominent Free Presbyterian Minister Rev David McIlveen writes in the Belfast Telegraph that Pastor McConnell’s comments will “resonate with many evangelicals throughout the province” and congratulated him for opening up “an important debate”.
May 25: Pastor McConnell returns to the pulpit and speaks of his week of turmoil, defiantly vowing that he won’t bow to what he describes as “powers of darkness”.
May 27: First Minister Peter Robinson breaks his silence on the row, revealing that he would not trust Muslims who had been involved in terrorist activities or those devoted to Sharia Law. His comments draw criticism across the board from Sinn Fein to the Alliance Party and even Respect MP George Galloway, who claims that Mr Robinson is not fit to be First Minister.