Chorus of condemnation continues to grow
Peter Robinson was increasingly isolated last night after politicians united to condemn his defence of a hardline preacher who condemned Islam.
The head of the Equality Commission also expressed concern at the First Minister's remarks, which come at a time when racist attacks are on the increase.
Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow said comments that negatively stereotype entire communities were unacceptable.
"Those in a position to influence others should not use language which may increase the vulnerability and legitimate fears of people who already feel isolated and under attack because of their race and religion," he said.
Justice Minister David Ford said the type of language Mr Robinson had used "would have gone down well in South Africa a few years ago or the southern parts of the United States half a century ago."
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers did not comment directly on Mr Robinson's statement.
However, she condemned Pastor McConnell's comments about Islam as wrong, totally unjustifiable and damaging to community relations, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said.
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said Pastor McConnell's comments might contravene the 1987 Public Order law which prohibits inciting hatred or causing fear on the grounds of race or religion. "Religious and ethnic minorities deserve much better leadership than they appear to be getting right now from the First Minister," he added.
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew has submitted a motion calling for the Assembly to debate Mr Robinson's remarks.
"He has tried to defend the indefensible and this is fanning the flames of racism – the outworking of which often leads to attacks and intimidation of people from ethnic minorities," he said.
SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: "Peter Robinson's backing of Pastor McConnell's comments on the Muslim faith sends out a direct message, not only to Muslims in the north, but to those of every faith deeply offended, that this is acceptable. It is not acceptable."