Homophobic church hit by pro-gay vandals

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Sectarian and pro-gay graffiti has been daubed on a Free Presbyterian church on the outskirts of Belfast.

Walls and gates at the Dunmurry church were smeared with pro-Republican slogans and the Nazi swastika in an overnight attack, broadcaster UTV has reported.

“IRA” and “Sinn Fein” were written on the whitewashed cement of the 50-year-old church. “Gays have a life too” was also plastered across the walls.

The incident followed comments about homosexuals on television last night by Free Presbyterian cleric the Rev David McIlveen.

Local minister the Rev Fred Greenfield, who discovered the graffiti, said the attack had shocked his small group of churchgoers.

“I don’t know why anybody would attack us, the only thing I can think of were the comments of my colleague David McIlveen, who was on television last night,” Rev Greenfield said.

David McCartney, co-ordinator of the Rainbow Project bisexual men’s health organisation, told UTV.

“Damaging other people’s property is just not on.

“If we have a point of view to make there are mechanisms other than to act in this way.

“We would urge people not to vandalise churches, people don’t need to be attacked or vilified for having certain religious beliefs or views.”

The Free Presbyterian Church was founded 56 years ago by Ian Paisley Snr, currently the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

It mounts a yearly counter-protest against Belfast Pride at the City Hall.

Last month veteran politician Paisley resigned as leader of the Church after coming under pressure from its members over gay rights issues.

The fundamentalist Christian sect were outraged that Mr Paisley and other members of his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ignored their objections to government financial support for Pride marches, which they called a “celebration of sodomy.”

Mr Paisley, 81, became the head of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration in May, after decades of opposition to power-sharing with the province’s minority Catholic population.

A coalition government included ministers from Sinn Fein, the DUP, the SDLP and the UUP.

Edwin Poots, the DUP minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, is renowned for his homophobic opinions.

As a councillor in Lisburn he tried to ban gay and lesbian couples from holding civil partnerships in the town hall.

Earlier this year, Free Presbyterian minister Ivan Foster told the Belfast Telegraph:

“If it turns out that financial support for a celebration of sodomy is sanctioned by a member or office bearer of the Free Presbyterian Church, then it will underscore the utter futility of the power sharing agreement that has been put together by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“Far from the DUP elevating the morals of society, it seems that the DUP is going to come down to the level of morality that society demands.”

A former member of the DUP then challenged party leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland Ian Paisley over the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The regulations outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

The UK government imposed them on Northern Ireland in January, before the new DUP/Sinn Fein-led local administration took office.

Independent Unionist MEP Jim Allister wrote to Mr Paisley to ask what he intends to do about the SOR now that he is in charge of equality issues in the province.

“There is not much point in being in executive office if you can’t deliver on principles important to you and your electorate,” he told the Belfast News Letter. [/i]

“These over-the-top regulations, subverting the conscience and convictions of service providers, so that, for example, the printer can’t refuse to print gay rights material, offend not just the human rights of service providers but exalt the rights of those they serve above their conscience and religious belief.”

He urged Mr Paisley to repeal the SOR.

In the 1970s Paisley spearheaded a campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, “Save Ulster From Sodomy,” and as recently as 2005 he led opposition to civil partnerships.

Since taking office in a joint administration with nationalist party Sinn Fein in May the DUP has muted their stance on gay rights.

His son, Ian Paisley Jnr, a junior minister in the Northern Ireland executive, has been more vocal.

He has defied critics of his stance on homosexuality, telling a magazine earlier this year that he finds gay people repulsive and that they are harming to society. He refuses to apologise or resign.