Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

DUP minister faces Gay Pride grant row

An incoming DUP minister was today facing a gay grant controversy over spending within his new Government department.

Edwin Poots has been challenged by a Free Presbyterian minister on the likelihood of money from the Department of Culture going to Gay Pride celebrations in Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots has told the Belfast Telegraph that he does not envisage intervening on the matter and will be obliged to comply with equality legislation.

The DUP MLA is a Free Presbyterian member himself and has been to the fore in opposition to recent gay rights legislation in Northern Ireland.

As a leading Lisburn councillor, he supported a failed attempt to prevent the wedding room in the city's civic centre being used for same sex civil partnership ceremonies.

Mr Poots will next week take charge of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which bankrolls the Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC), a Government sponsorship and promotional body.

NIEC awarded £3,000 to Gay Pride celebrations in 2006 and is currently considering a grant application for this year's festival.

Mr Poots said that his personal opinions were very clear. But he added: " Sometimes your personal views diverge from what you can do. There are procedures to go through and equality legislation and I will be observing all of those procedures."

Mr Poots said it was NIEC's responsibility to allocate its money.

"There are laws in this country and they have to be observed, whether we like them or not," he said.

"I don't think it would be wise for a minister to go in and not observe those laws."

A very different approach to the issue of Gay Pride funding was taken by outspoken Free Presbyterian Minister, the Rev Ivan Foster.

The clergyman, who is bitterly opposed to the Stormont deal on restoring devolution, said: "If it turns out that financial support for a celebration of sodomy is sanctioned by a member or office bearer of the Free Presbyterian Church, then it will underscore the utter futility of the power sharing agreement that has been put together by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"Far from the DUP elevating the morals of society, it seems that the DUP is going to come down to the level of morality that society demands."

A DCAL spokesperson today said: "NIEC paid grant of £3,000 to Gay Pride under the Community Festivals Fund last year. There is an application in for this year also and this is being considered. All applications are treated equally."

The annual Gay Pride parade in Belfast has been picketed by Christian objectors in recent years. The protesters have also attempted, without success, to persuade the Parades Commission to ban the event.

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