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Lindy McDowell: Europe to get taste of Ashers cake with free speech in dock

As we all know, Ashers, the bakery firm which made the cake, had refused the requested icing 'Support Gay Marriage' because the message did not chime with their religious beliefs
As we all know, Ashers, the bakery firm which made the cake, had refused the requested icing 'Support Gay Marriage' because the message did not chime with their religious beliefs
Meghan and Harry flew to Ibiza on a private plane
I am sailing: Greta Thunberg

By Lindy McDowell

It's back. Just when you thought the lid on the bread bin had been hammered down, sealed for all eternity, The 'gay cake' returns. This thing has had more sequels than Star Wars. Baked back in 2014, the infamous sponge should be well past its 'best before' date both in terms of nutrition and litigation.

But apparently no. The mouldy remains have been scooped up, plated up and readied once again to be presented before the Great European Bake-Off judges (or, as they prefer to be known, the European Court of Human Rights).

To put the old cake in historical context, it was baked back when David Cameron was still in Downing Street, Jeremy Clarkson was in Top Gear, Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and the Giro d'Italia was in Belfast.

In the years since it's been hauled before courts more times than the Naked Rambler.

As we all know, Ashers, the bakery firm which made the cake, had refused the requested icing 'Support Gay Marriage' because the message did not chime with their religious beliefs.

Customer Gareth Lee took them to court with the help of the Equality Commission. He won, Ashers appealed... this went on for a bit until finally the Supreme Court found for Ashers.

But now we are all back on the public benches with the doughy old defendant again in the dock. No wonder we have cake fatigue...

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Will the cake ever be set free? Will we ever be free of the cake?

We are not very good at letting things go in Northern Ireland, are we?

The gay cake has become the Drumcree of the bakery aisle. We seem to have been marching up and down with it forever. With no indication that either side is ever going to give way.

I very much support gay marriage, but I also believe that in this instance the freedom of speech argument does apply.

And it's precisely the freedom of speech aspect the new court action will now be focusing on. According to Mr Lee's firm of solicitors, who are taking the UK (not Ashers) to the ECHR: "One of the main arguments is: we challenge the concept that a business can have religious beliefs. Its owners may, but businesses, brands and companies are separate from their owners and their personal and private views."

It's a contentious argument with obvious implications for a whole raft of businesses, not least those which increasingly are at pains to inform us of their 'ethos'.

We've been through all the many 'what if' scenarios before, and doubtless will be chewing them over again for weeks, possibly years to come as the legal action rumbles on.

But there's also another important batch of dough involved in this case. The new action is presumably again being funded by large wads of taxpayers' money. How much? And for how long?

Taking a stand against discrimination - absolutely I would support that.

But this action seems more about forcing business people to conform to the rulings of the Thought Police.

Your personal beliefs are not allowed to influence the type of business you run? What implications would that not have for all the myriad of firms - many of them small and still family-run - which provide us with a rich, diverse range of services and commerce?

It's not just the avowedly Christian businesses which most of us would be well aware might not be the first port of call when expecting certain goods or services.

Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist business concerns would equally be affected.

Leftie business owners as much as conservatives would be expected to set aside in the workplace the values they live by. Might even human rights lawyers find themselves challenged too?

Freedom of thought, of speech, of conscience - those the very cornerstones of a liberal society. We should not be seeking to dilute or neuter them.

Flagging up a row over nothing

I'm thinking of doing a weekly slot in this column on 'row about nothing'. This week's row about nothing centres on an SDLP man seemingly shocked by a stack of produce boxes in Tesco branded with the Union flag. Some fellow tweeters told him to get a grip. But what does this episode really tell us about this man? That judging by his amazement at the sight of flags on shops' packaging - obviously he's never been to Sainsbury's.

Life’s a drag for Epstein pal Clinton

Odd artwork of the week... a visitor to the home of now deceased paedophile Jeffrey Epstein has released a pic of an unusual painting spotted in the billionaire's mansion. It depicts Bill Clinton lounging in what appears to be the Oval Office wearing a blue dress and red stilettos. So many questions here. What is this artwork meant to signify? Why that dress? Did Bill know about the painting? Did he pose for it even? And if so, whatever possessed him to think those shoes would go with that dress?

Why royal and teenage eco warriors are winding me up

Move over Greta Thunberg. We are all aware that space on your ocean-going yacht is already at a premium - but there may be need to welcome aboard assorted members of the royal family who, despite spouting environmental orders to the rest of us, are having to take time out of their eco-warriorship to snatch luxury breaks in the Balearics.

Travelling by private jet, needless to say.

Prince Harry, barefoot in the Google park a couple of weeks ago as he advocated low carbon emissioning and small families, has since been off to Ibiza with Meghan on a carbon-belching private aircraft.

Also flying out in style were Fergie and Andrew, this time to Majorca - again travelling by easy private jet.

In fairness, unlike the Sussexes, the Yorks haven't been leading the charge on eco issues. Possibly they would, though... if the money was right.

You, Greta, could have done them all a good turn by dropping them off en route as you head to those important meetings in the US, which apparently require you to take a yacht.

Obviously Skype is no substitute for personal appearance...

But what about the ordinary rest of us who, unlike you, have no access to a solar-powered private yacht - albeit one without basic toiletry systems (for some reason the boat's crew and passengers will 'go' in buckets)?

What if we have important meetings, too, Greta?

The royals are slated for not putting their hand luggage where their mouths are.

But there is also something just a tiny bit unsettling about being nagged about why we shouldn't fly economy by an 'activist' who has access to a boat, a crew and the luxury of taking lots of time to get there.

In this instance, like the contents of those onboard buckets you pee in before chucking overboard, the reduction in carbon footprint, Greta, will be just a drop in the ocean.

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