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Watchdog to probe Paisley gay comments

Complaints could lead to censure for Junior Minister

By Noel McAdam

An Assembly watchdog is set to examine Ian Paisley Jnr's outspoken attack on gays and homosexuality, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

The Committee on Standards and Privileges could censure the junior minister, but any move to suspend him over his remarks appears unlikely to succeed.

It comes after a number of complaints by individuals from the lesbian and homosexual community angered by the views of the North Antrim MLA.

A report from the Assembly's interim ombudsman, Tom Frawley, on Mr Paisley's comments is expected to arrive with the committee this week.

The junior minister has already met Mr Frawley to discuss his remarks that homosexuals "without caring... harm society".

Paisley Jnr also said: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong."

Committee chairperson Carmel Hanna of the SDLP said she could not comment directly on an issue which had yet to be discussed by the 11-strong committee.

But the South Belfast MLA added: "Members of the public are certainly entitled to make complaints, particularly in this era of greater scrutiny, but Assembly members are also entitled to a very fair hearing."

Mr Paisley, who has defended his criticism - part of a wide-ranging interview for the Dublin-based Hot Press magazine - said he had no reaction to make ahead of the committee hearing.

But a close friend of the junior minister said: "It is not something he is losing any sleep about. He has met Mr Frawley and will be interested to see the conclusions of his report."

A source close to the standards committee said: "This is all a fairly new area for the committee. In the last administration there were virtually no complaints against any member, and certainly nothing of any major nature."

Mr Frawley's report is expected to provide guidance for the committee which has four DUP members. The SDLP and Sinn Fein also have four between them. It will be up to the committee, which also includes Green Party MLA Brian Wilson, to decide whether the report is made public.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the remarks were a problem because they were a "total contradiction" of his Office's responsibility for "protecting the rights of all sorts of people within our society, including minorities".

Mr Paisley Jnr, however, has insisted his remarks do not breach the ministerial code.

Belfast Telegraph


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