NI First Minister: Equality Commission shouldn’t spend money suing over anti-gay discrimination

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The First Minister of Northern Ireland has criticised the Equality Commission, for spending funds taking a bakery to court over anti-gay discrimination.

Last July, Ashers Baking Company – based in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland – refused the request of a gay rights activist for a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

The bakery vowed to “make a stand” after it was found to have broken anti-discrimination laws, and the Equality Commission is taking the company to court after the bakery rejected a legal settlement.

However, First Minister Peter Robinson has lambasted the body for spending funds to pursue the case.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “The issue here is where there are competing rights, ensuring that there is reasonable accommodation. That is what the Equality Commission have missed in all of this.

“When you consider that they have set aside the potential of spending £33,000 on this court case where they are seeking damages of £500 against Ashers, there is a better use that could be put to that money, particularly in the tight fiscal situation the Executive faces.”

The Equality Commission clarified told Belfast Live despite the DUP politician’s comments, they have so far spent £8,586 on the case.

A spokesperson told the newspaper: “We can also confirm that our Legal Funding Committee has authorised expenditure not exceeding £33,000.

“The Equality Commission has an important role in ensuring effective application of Northern Ireland’s equality laws and supports cases so that people are aware of, and can avail of, the protection these laws afford against all forms of unlawful discrimination.

“This case raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion.”