Ulster Unionist Adrian Watson has hit back at claims he should be dropped as a UUP-Conservative election candidate.
The Antrim mayor, who has been accused of homophobia over controversial comments he made in 2006, last night said he had no difficulty in supporting the Tory manifesto promoting gay equality.
Mr Watson, who branded members of the Travelling community “scumbags” and narrowly avoided prosecution after tackling an intruder at his home with a baseball bat, sparked outrage when he told a radio show he would not accommodate gay and lesbian couples at his family run bed and breakfast.
The father-of-three has since moved to distance himself from the outrageous comments and last night refuted allegations that the Conservative Party should disown him.
“As I said back in 2006, when the issue of gay couple maybe booking a room in a bed and breakfast run by my wife arose as a purely hypothetical situation on a radio show, I have absolutely no difficulty with members of the gay community phoning up and booking a room,” he said.
Mr Watson said he adhered to the Ulster Unionist manifesto, was committed to equality and opposed discrimination on the ground of race, gender or sexual orientation.
He added: “My reservations at that time were entirely down to the fact that my wife has strong evangelical Christian views and because my 14-year-old daughter at that particular time was helping to serve breakfasts in the guest house.
“That was what concerned me as a husband and father at that specific time. It was a purely personal concern as a husband and a father which I know most people would understand.
“I have a completely live-and-let-live attitude to gays and I know that many gay people support our party which has a far more tolerant view than the DUP, which has been tainted with homophobia through the interventions of the First Minister’s wife, the then MP and MLA, Iris Robinson.
“I would never discriminate against gay people and, if elected as the MP for South Antrim, I can honestly say that I would work for my gay constituents as energetically as for any other constituent. The gay community has absolutely nothing to fear from me.”
Last week Conservative representative in Northern Ireland Jeffrey Peel his party should disassociate itself from someone with such extreme views as Mr Watson.
“I am sorry the Conservative dissident Mr Peel takes the extreme position he does and that he would seek to overturn the democratic selection process within my party which has selected me as a candidate. I can assure him that his fears are absolutely groundless,” added Mr Watson.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party in London declined to comment, stressing that Mr Watson was not yet a Tory candidate.