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DUP ex-minister quits National Trust over body's support for gay pride march


The Gay Pride parade makes its way through Belfast city centre

The Gay Pride parade makes its way through Belfast city centre

Jim Wells of the DUP

Jim Wells of the DUP


The Gay Pride parade makes its way through Belfast city centre

A Democratic Unionist former minister in Northern Ireland has resigned his membership of the National Trust over its support for a gay pride march.

The conservation charity in Northern Ireland tweeted photos of its members taking part in Saturday's Belfast city centre demonstration.

Ex-Stormont health minister Jim Wells, whose party is propping up Prime Minister Theresa May's government at Westminster, said the trust should stick to protecting heritage.

He said: "The National Trust is an organisation which does excellent work conserving historic houses, our scenic coastline and beautiful gardens.

"It would be very wise to keep out of controversial social issues which have little if anything to do with its main objectives."

A post on the Trust's Northern Ireland twitter account showed images of a rainbow flag with its logo emblazoned on it and people waving similar miniature flags.

It tweeted it was: "Really fantastic to be part of #Belfastpride today.

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"Supporting diversity and our LGTB colleagues."

Saturday's Belfast Pride parade was the largest such one in Northern Ireland this year and the latest public demonstration of support for same sex marriage.

It is the only part of the UK where the ceremony is barred.

The DUP has used a controversial Stormont voting mechanism to prevent its legalisation, despite most Assembly members supporting the move at the last vote.

The party rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage, and has called for tolerance of what are increasingly minority views.

It does not have enough members in the new Assembly to veto an equal marriage vote on its own, but there is no immediate prospect of the deeply divided administration being restored.

Mr Wells resigned as health minister in 2015 over comments he made about same-sex relationships.

He worked for the National Trust for a decade until 1998, when he was elected to the devolved Assembly.

He has been a member and donor for almost 20 years.

The South Down Assembly member cited as justification an article published recently in the Trust's magazine and events at trust property Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk.

There, staff were offered behind-the-scenes roles after saying they were uncomfortable wearing the multi-coloured pins during a Prejudice And Pride event marking 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Meanwhile, DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little Pengelly appeared to intervene in the gay rights debate surrounding her party.

She tweeted on Saturday: " Best wishes to all my friends and constituents celebrating today - all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution."

Naomi Long, leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, said the Trust's support for the parade had prompted her to join.

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