Belfast book shop may face legal action over DUP ban
The Equality Commission has said a bookshop owner planning to ban the DUP from a new cafe could face a discrimination case.
John Junk is the managing director of Belfast Books on York Road in north Belfast.
He's currently attempting to raise £15,000 through crowdfunding to open a cafe in the building - one where he says elected members of the DUP won't be welcome.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, he said his main problem was with the DUP's use of the petition of concern in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2015 to block same-sex marriage.
The move has drawn comparisons with the Ashers 'gay cake' case, in which Gareth Lee was refused a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.
Recently the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the bakery owners, who said their problem was not with the customer but with promoting a message they disagreed with.
Referring to the Belfast Books matters, a spokesperson for the Equality Commission said no discrimination could actually occur until the bookshop cafe opens.
"If the cafe were open and someone was refused service because of his/her political beliefs, then a case of unlawful political discrimination could be taken," the spokesperson explained.
In the front window display of the Belfast Books sits a biography of the late DUP leader Ian Paisley. Mr Junk says he has no problem selling the book and is not hostile towards the DUP, but feels it's right to take a stand against the party's stance on same-sex marriage.
Critics on social media have accused him of a publicity stunt to promote his funding campaign, but he said: "There's much more to it. The LGBT thing is a personal issue for me because it affected someone dear to me.
"Suggestions that this is a publicity stunt are understandable, but it's about getting this story back into the news and people talking about it.
"I want there to be a discourse and hopefully an accommodation where LGBT people are not discriminated against."
Asked how this differed from the Ashers case, he said: "First of all, Ashers existed and this is hypothetical.
"It's not about boosting our crowdfunding - the press coverage hasn't moved it by one digit at all.
"If that was the intention, then it's a pretty bad job on my part."
Mr Junk also alleged that in an area of "serious blight", DUP representatives were a rare sight.
"The DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, has his office about 700 metres down the road and I've never seen them out apart from election time," he said. "The community needs this, not just leaflets through their door."
Pointing to several empty fields surrounding the shop, he said that delays in building much-needed new housing were another concern.
Any future ban on the DUP using his proposed cafe would be lifted if the party allowed its members a free vote on same-sex marriage, he continued.
"I think there's lots of people in the DUP who have no issue on LGBT and same-sex issues," he said. "This is about the POC (petition of concern), not the DUP. If they would give a free vote to their members, they would be welcome to the cafe."
Since opening in 2014, he said the premises has become as much an advice centre as a book shop, adding that the frustration he hears from local residents has made him consider running in the local council elections next year.
The DUP was contacted for a response, but declined to comment. However, one of its MLAs, Christopher Stalford, said on Twitter: "Apparently as a DUP elected representative I've been banned from a bookshop cafe. The fact that the bookshop (cafe) is yet to actually open and the people behind it are crowdfunding is beside the fact.
"I wonder would the owners of this non-existent shop also ban books they don't like?"
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie also opposed the potential DUP ban, describing it in a Twitter post as "counterproductive".
So far £840 of the £15,000 cafe target has been raised, and Mr Junk concluded that if it does open, "Nigel Dodds ain't going to be cutting the ribbon".