Almost 11,000 people have signed a petition calling on Gordon Brown to reprimand DUP MP Iris Robinson over her controversial remarks about homosexuality.
The e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website states that the First Minister’s wife’s views are “narrow-minded” and “not fitting” of an MLA or MP.
Less than 30 people have signed an opposing petition calling on the Prime Minister to allow the comments to go unreprimanded as a matter of personal opinion and religion.
The petition states “anyone who feels strongly enough in freedom of speech should allow these remarks made about homosexuality to remain unpunished”.
Mrs Robinson is facing calls to resign from public office after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that she told a parliamentary committee homosexuality is “viler” than child sex abuse. The Strangford MP made her comments in front of a committee of MPs during a debate on the management and assessment of sex offenders.
She later clarified her position to the Telegraph stating that the act of homosexuality is “comparable” to child sex abuse. As she came under public pressure to apologise for her comments, however, she carried out an apparent U-turn and said her views had not been accurately reflected in the Hansard publication of the debate and that she “clearly intended to say that child abuse was worse even than homosexuality and sodomy”.
But a Hansard official said that after checking audio recordings she was satisfied the comments were reported accurately.
UUP MLA John McCallister today said he did not accept Mrs Robinson's explanation that her comments had not been accurately reflected and said that it was time the DUP ordered the First Minister’s wife to step down from public office.
“Mrs Robinson had no reason whatsoever to discuss homosexuality during a debate on sex offenders. Unfortunately, because the DUP is the majority party, there is not much we can do to stop her. We are virtually powerless to stop her. It is up to the DUP to tell her she has to go, that this sort of thing is not acceptable,” he said.
“She is an embarrassment to the whole of Northern Ireland. It is frightening to think of the enormous harm she is potentially doing to homosexual people.... She is putting people at serious risk.
“We will hopefully be discussing this as a party to consider the options available to us to pressurise the DUP into accepting that Iris Robinson can no longer continue in public office. Peter Robinson will have to clarify if his wife is reflecting his party’s position and if he agrees that a member of his party is entitled to make such disgraceful comments.
“It is time the DUP listened to the public and the public no longer want Iris in office.”
The Rainbow Project, a group which aims to address the physical, mental and emotional health of gay and bisexual men, said that despite seeing the clear evidence of the damage and hurt which her comments cause, Mrs Robinson “continues to attack a vulnerable group which makes up between 6-10% of the population.”
A spokesman added: “Christian groups and individuals have contacted The Rainbow Project from all over the world to distance themselves from her comments. Closer to home, political and religious leaders have publicly condemned the blatant homophobia and spoken about the levels of crime and harassment that the gay community faces here.
“This misguided politician does not speak for Christianity, rather only for a narrow band of extremists. If further evidence was needed that Mrs Robinson’s role as chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee is untenable, well here it is.”
Iain Dale, a gay member of the Tory party, said on his blog that Mrs Robinson’s comments “reinforces existing prejudices”. He added: “While I am sure Mrs Robinson, being a good Christian, would never condone any form of homophobic attack, she should not be surprised if her remarks give succour to those who perpetrate them.”