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UUP candidate accused of homophobia

By Lesley-Anne Henry

David Cameron’s Conservative Party could by left blushing after his political allies in Northern Ireland selected a councillor accused of homophobia to stand in the General Election.

Adrian Watson has been chosen by his Ulster Unionist constituency association to represent South Antrim in May.

The final nomination process has yet to be completed and although Mr Watson has tried to distance himself from the controversial comments made on radio in 2006, the Conservatives may decide to veto his nomination when he appears before the joint committee of senior officials next month.

The Antrim mayor caused offence to gay people after saying he would not allow gay and lesbian couples to stay at his bed and breakfast.

“The difficulty would arise because of the logistics of the bed and breakfast — if it was a same sex couple — and because my wife has strong Christian views, she felt it was difficult to facilitate that,” he said on the Stephen Nolan show.

However, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph this week, Mr Watson claimed his remarks had been misinterpreted.

“I have never called anybody a ‘homo’ in my life,” he said.

“I have no issue with the gay community. At that time there were some logistics problems which have now been sorted out. I have no problem with gay people and I have always made that clear.

“I would dissociate myself from the comment. I treat every member of the community with respect irrespective of their class, colour, creed or sexuality.

“I believe in equality and rights for everyone.”

Mr Watson is no stranger to controversy. In 2005 he described members of the Travelling community at a local halting point as “scumbags” and the “scum of the earth”, and in 2008 risked prosecution after tackling a burglar at his own home with a baseball bat.

The decision by the South Antrim Ulster Unionist Association to select Mr Watson was made in the same week the Tories launched a national programme promoting gay equality, prompting campaigners to urge David Cameron to reject his nomination. Jeffrey Peel, a member of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland, said he agreed with the gay rights campaigners.

“I don’t know the guy but if he genuinely doesn’t welcome people into his bed and breakfast because of their sexual orientation, then I would be in absolute agreement with the gay rights campaigners on this case.

“I am not sure that the Conservative Party should be endorsing such a candidate.”

Last night a spokesman for the Conservatives stressed that Mr Watson was not yet a Tory candidate.

“He has not yet been selected so I can’t prejudice that process,” he said.

The Ulster Unionists said they were committed to equality.

A spokesperson said: “The Ulster Unionist Party has a strong commitment to a tolerant and inclusive Northern Ireland within the UK.

“This is illustrated by our 2007 Assembly manifesto commitment: ‘Ulster Unionists are proud of Northern Ireland's place in the diverse, pluralist, modern United Kingdom. We believe in a culturally diverse Northern Ireland in which the rights of all are secured within the Union. At the core of Ulster Unionist values is the conviction that all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of class, gender, religious belief, political opinion, sexual orientation, colours or race should share in the cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom.”

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan programme in 2006 Mr Watson said although he believed in “tolerance to the gay community”, he was not operating a five-star hotel. He said: “This is a bed and breakfast in a family home. Common sense has to prevail. There is no difficulty with members of the gay community phoning up and booking a room. The difficulty would arise because of the logistics — if it was a same sex couple — my wife has strong Christian views.”

Belfast Telegraph


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