Northern Ireland leader meets gay rights activists

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The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland met with representatives of the Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO) last week.

CoSO, established by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans groups in the province to provide a voice for the LGBT community, was there to seek assurances on gay rights after the homophobic comments of a junior minister.

In a wide-ranging and successful meeting, Martin McGuinness and CoSO discussed homophobia in sport, the Northern Ireland administration’s sexual orientation strategy and the high suicide rates in the province.

“It was positive meeting from our point of view,” a CoSO spokesperson told

“We had requested the meeting at the time of Ian Paisley’s Jnr’s comments and has taken that long to get the meeting.”

In May Ian Paisley Jnr, a junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, caused outrage with homophobic comments he made in a magazine interview.

Mr Paisley Jnr, who is the son of the Democratic Unionist First Minister, told Hotpress magazine that lesbians and gay men harm society and he is repulsed by them.

He was appointed a junior minister by his father and represents North Antrim in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

CoSO raised the issue with Mr McGuinness, who made clear his personal support for gay rights and that the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is proactive in equality matters.

However, the structure of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland means that Mr Paisley Jnr can only be sanctioned by his own party or by the Ombudsman, who ruled last week that his comments did not break the code of conduct for members of the NI Assembly.

CoSO discussed the sexual orientation strategy for Northern Ireland, which was opened to consultation last year and is being finalised now.

The strategy and action plan will apply to all government departments and public bodies run by them.

CoSO urged Mr McGuinness to launch the strategy publicly and ensure that all ministers from the OFMDFM take part in publicising it.

Because of the structure of the power-sharing executive, one of the two DUP ministers in the OFMDFM will have to sign the strategy.

That means either Ian Paisley Snr or his son will have to approve it.

CoSO also discussed discrimnation on sport, and asked that the culture minister, DUP member Edwin Poots, ensure that homophobia, racism and sexism are tackled by the Executive as robustly as secterianism in sport.

On suicide, a major problem in Northern Ireland society, especially among young men, Mr McGuinness said that he the First Minister shocked each time a suicide happened.

CoSO referred to research that shows gay people are much more likely to attempt suicide, and that the comments by Mr Paisley Jnr were not helpful.

“The government and ministers need to take account of the fact that when they say something, it can do damage,” said a CoSO spokesperson.

The Deputy First Minister committed himself to further meetings with CoSO in the near future.

Mr Paisley Jnr has been nominated for the Bigot of the Year award at the Stonewall Awards 2007.