Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Our dream of a tolerant society still a long way off

It has taken decades for people in Northern Ireland to realise that the best way forward is to seek toleration on differing viewpoints and to work together on what they have in common.

A recent example of a lack of tolerance has been provided by the designate Health Minister Jim Wells. He said that women who become pregnant after a rape should not be permitted to have an abortion, and should consider handing over the baby for adoption.

His views have rightly caused fury across the political spectrum, and even his own DUP has distanced itself from his controversial comments.

Mr Wells has not commented further, at this time of writing, but his initial statement still seriously questions his suitability as chair of the Assembly's Health Committee and as a future Health Minister.

However, hot on the heels of this controversy come the remarks of Paul McClean, the DUP chair of Magherafelt Council who describes homosexuality as an "abomination" and claims that it is morally and spiritually wrong and should not be considered legal. It is difficult to comprehend how a council chairman could be so reprehensively biased and tactless about expressing his point of view. The DUP, which so often talks about inclusiveness, should have no hesitation in expelling him for such outlandish comments.

In a separate development, the Attorney General John Larkin has intervened in a case involving two Austrians at the European Court of Human Rights and has suggested that Northern Ireland and Austria should be allowed to opt out of legislation which would permit adoption by a same-sex couple.

This is a complex issue, and Mr Larkin may well believe that he is justified in making his point. However his critics may feel that this is another example of government entering into areas which are in the realm of personal and family morality.

After such hard-won progress on tolerance in the political and community context, the people of Northern Ireland need to be wary about safeguarding tolerance in all aspects of life in the province.

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