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‘No approach to Paisley on gay funding’

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First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson's Stormont department has contradicted his former leader Ian Paisley's account of a controversial gay funding process.

Mr Paisley has been facing criticism within his Free Presbyterian church over gay grants issued during his time as First Minister.

He has maintained that he refused to approve the funding and told officials that he would go to jail rather than sign the documents.

But the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has now stated that authorisation was never sought from Mr Paisley.

The funding package was established in 2006, by the then Secretary of State Peter Hain.

It involved £230,000 for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups across the province, and was the responsibility of OFMDFM's equality wing.

Only £50,000 of the total had been released by May 2007, when devolution was restored and Mr Paisley became head of OFMDFM as First Minister.

OFMDFM has stated that £100,000 from the funding package was released during Mr Paisley's period in power.

The remaining £80,000 is due to be issued in the current financial year. That creates potential embarrassment for current DUP First Minister Peter Robinson, whose politician wife Iris regards homosexuality as an "abomination".

Mr Paisley has firmly stated that he withheld approval of the grant money as First Minister, forcing the matter to be taken to Westminster.

OFMDFM has now spelt out its position in reply to a detailed Freedom of Information request from this newspaper.

It stated: "In July 2006 the then Secretary of State Peter Hain announced his intention to award a short term fund to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender sector. No further Ministerial authorisation was or will be sought in respect of payments of the fund."

The Stormont department was also asked for any dates, following the return of devolution, when the funding package was discussed at the House of Commons.

It stated: "There are no dates relevant to this request."

On the subject of any Commons reports on the grant-aid, OFMDFM likewise stated: "There are no reports relevant to this request."

The department's reply also said that there had been "no correspondence between OFMDFM and the Northern Ireland Office on OFMDFM allocations to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender groups".

Mr Paisley spoke to the Belfast Telegraph in August about responsibility for the money being passed to Westminster.

"I never signed it," he said. "They had to change it. Our hands were absolutely clean. It had nothing to with us," he stated.

Mr Paisley also made a statement on the subject to his Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian church congregation in January this year. He said he had been told as First Minister that he had to hand over the remainder of the money agreed by Mr Hain.

"Says I they are not getting one ha'ppeny from me," the church heard.

"The civil servants said you need to sign there. Says I: no signature, take it away, don't come back to me."

Mr Paisley continued: "They took the paper to Westminster and signed it at Westminster and they gave them the money they had promised, but I never gave them a penny, not a penny."

He also said: "They told me that if I didn't do it I would be put in prison. Says I: roll on the prison, I've been there before."

Distribution of the funding package established by Peter Hain is administered by an umbrella organisation called the Coalition on Sexual Orientation.

OFMDFM has given the grant allocation dates so far as March 2007, July 2007 and February 2008, with £50,000 issued on each occasion.

Belfast Telegraph