The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been accused of “backing Jim Wells” over criticism of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, following an interview on Sky News.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Donaldson acknowledged past comments by members of the party had been “hurtful” to LGBT people here, before adding it was “not just in the case of the DUP”.
While the DUP leader said it is right “that we say sorry and acknowledge hurt”, Mr Donaldson went on to add: “Equally in time, I hope others will be able to acknowledge that they have caused hurt, for example to people from a strongly held faith perspective.”
The comments by Mr Donaldson led to an online response from Alliance’s Naomi Long who said it was a “case of new leader, same old DUP” and said the party “deny others their rights”.
In a previous interview with the BBC last week, Mr Donaldson appeared to endorse the apology from party colleague and deputy leader Paula Bradley, who told LGBT groups at a Pink News Belfast Virtual Reception event, that comments made in the past by some in the DUP were "absolutely atrocious".
Following the remarks on Friday, the DUP MLA Jim Wells called on LGBT groups to apologise to him, having been subject to years of “hurtful” comments made towards him, which you could “paper a wall” with.
“What I would like to happen is for the LGBT lobby to apologise to me and to hundreds of others, who have been subjected to the most atrocious social media and public comment, because we have dared to stand for traditional marriage and traditional values,” added Mr Wells.
Speaking on Sky, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson added: “In terms of looking ahead, I hope my colleagues will recognise that when we take decisions about social issues, when we speak out on social issues which we are entitled to do, that we do so in a gracious way, that we avoid language that is seen as intemperate or disrespectful - but where that happens, I will not hesitate to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
In response, the Alliance party leader Naomi Long posted a series of tweets.
“Having paid tribute this week to Paula Bradley, it is clear that @J_Donaldson_MP is instead backing Jim Well's assertion that the LGBTQ+ community owe those who said horrendous things about them and sought to deny them equality and human rights an apology,” she said.
“To be clear, other parties have made mistakes. But the DUP alone have aggressively and persistently opposed every single piece of progress for LGBTQ+ people and failed to sanction vile homophobic remarks made by senior party members.
“There is also no equivalence between the behaviour of the DUP from a position of power, which they abuse to deny others their rights, and campaigning by those who are being subject to that abuse and denial of rights.”
The DUP has been contacted for a response.