Pressure grows on Jim Wells to quit after remarks linking gays to child abuse
Health Minister Jim Wells is facing growing calls to resign over remarks linking gay relationships with child abuse.
Police confirmed they were investigating the comments made at an election event in Downpatrick.
Mr Wells said a child brought up in a homosexual relationship was more likely to be abused and neglected, claiming that such marriages were less stable.
The DUP minister later apologised, but his remarks have caused uproar, with the Deputy First Minister leading calls for his resignation. Martin McGuinness said Mr Wells' position was "no longer tenable".
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said "the mask has slipped", accusing the DUP of being "truly backward-looking" in its views.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said Mr Wells' remarks were "not our view and nor will it ever be our view."
However, Mr Robinson said he stood by his minister and urged people to consider the personal pressures he was under.
Mr Wells' wife Grace has been in hospital for 11 weeks after suffering two strokes. The remarks were made during an election husting on Thursday night.
In a video clip, Mr Wells says "the facts show you certainly don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship".
He went on to claim children were "far more likely to be abused or neglected" in "non-stable" marriages.
His words are then drowned out by angry shouts from the audience. One member tells the South Down MLA, who is standing for Westminster, that he should be ashamed of himself.
Mr Wells issued a statement shortly after midnight claiming his comments were misrepresented. But, in a second statement eight hours later, he apologised.
"I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond," he said.
"I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I'm sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view, nor that of my party."
Mr Wells said he made no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Mr Robinson pointed to the stress his minister has been under during his wife's illness. "I think anybody that looks at the comments will recognise that on a better day Jim would never have made such a comment," he said.
"I think everybody knows the pressure that he's been under the last couple of months with his wife being ill in hospital and trying to keep going a very significant department in the Executive."
Elsewhere the comments - the latest in a series of blunders by the MLA - drew strong criticism.
Fellow DUP MLA Pam Cameron wrote on Twitter that she disassociated herself from them.
Yesterday the PSNI said it was investigating. A spokesman said: "Police have received a complaint and officers are currently making inquiries."
Meanwhile, Mr Wells faced growing calls to step down.
Mr McGuinness said: "Jim Wells' attack on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community was reprehensible and completely unacceptable from someone holding the position of Health Minister."
He added: "His position as Health Minister is clearly no longer tenable and the DUP leadership should now reflect on that."
Alliance leader David Ford said that had it been a minister anywhere else in the UK, they would have already quit. However, Mr Ford said any resignation would be meaningless without a sea change of attitude from the DUP.
The SDLP said it would submit a motion of no confidence in Mr Wells.
The Conservative Party, which could require DUP support to form a government after May 7, also distanced itself from Mr Wells' comments. Its South Down candidate Felicity Buchan said: "The Conservative Party and I personally do not in any way agree with what was said." A child protection body set up by Mr Wells' own department rejected his comments.
Glenys Johnston, from the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, said: "There is no evidence that children who are brought up by same-sex couples are any more at risk of abuse than those brought up by heterosexual couples."
Jim Wells: 'I regret having wrongly made that remark'
"The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate.
"Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.
"I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I'm sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.
"Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on.
"This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.
"The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
"I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology."
'Hurtful... shameful... appalling'
Alliance: party leader David Ford:
“Any right-thinking person would be disgusted by these vile, inaccurate and hurtful comments. But sadly it was not an isolated incident within the DUP.
“One only has to look at his predecessor as Health Minister, who fought a crusade against gay men donating blood, not based on evidence but personal prejudice."
SDLP: Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood:
“To suggest that children raised by gay parents are more likely to be abused is a baseless slur on an entire community.
“His track record on equality for the LGBT community is there for all to see.
“He should be ashamed of himself.”
Sinn Fein: Mid Ulster MLA Martin McGuinness:
“I accept that he is under pressure as a result of his wife’s serious illness and I acknowledge that he has apologised. (But) his position as Health Minister is clearly no longer tenable.”
Ulster Unionists: party spokesperson
“They were outrageous comments from Jim Wells that would attempt to link same-sex partnerships with increased incidences of child abuse and neglect... appalling comments to make and totally wrong.”