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McGuinness: Pastor must apologise for hate-filled speech

Published 05/06/2014

Brendan Hughes




DEPUTY first minister Martin McGuinness called on controversial preacher James McConnell to apologise last night following a visit to Belfast Islamic Centre. the Sinn Féin politician said although he supported free speech, no-one had the right to "hate-filled speech".

On tuesday, First Minister peter Robinson publicly apologised for "any offence caused" after he defended pastor McConnell's description of Islam as "satanic" and "heathen". The ministers had initially agreed to a joint visit following the row over Mr Robinson's support for the extreme pastor.

However, the executive partners instead made separate visits to the Islamic Centre upon Mr Robinson's request.

Following his visit last night, Mr McGuinness said: "I believe that people have the right to free speech but people, including ministers of whatever church, do not have the right to hate-filled speech.

"That was what we heard from pastor McConnell. Not just the comments but the way the words were delivered was hate-filled and I believe he should apologise for those words."

Mr Robinson was harshly criticised after he said he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to Sharia law but would "trust them to go to the shops" for him.

Following the comments, Mr Mc Guinness called on Mr Robinson to show leadership in promoting equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all.

But Mr Robinson hit back and said he would not "take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation".

Last week Muslim leaders told The Irish News they had asked the pair to visit the Islamic Centre together to "show solidarity", to which they agreed. But centre spokesman Raied Al-Wazzan (47) yesterday admitted he "felt awkward" over Mr McGuinness later being asked to delay his visit.

However, he said he remained hopeful that the ministers would be able to make a joint visit in the future.

"They talked to each other and they agreed the best way forward," Dr Al-Wazzan said.

"Mr Robinson asked to come by himself. I just wanted to make him comfortable and we agreed to that."

"To be honest people in Northern Ireland know the relationship between them at the moment isn't 100 per cent.

"We wanted to use this opportunity to bring them together but it didn't happen, but hopefully it will happen in the future." The row over Mr Robinson's remarks is the latest public spat between the ministers.

Last month Mr McGuinness accused Mr Robinson of "cowardice of the worst kind" over attacks in east Belfast.

He said there had been a lack of Dup statements above councillor level condemning the UVF's alleged involvement in attacks on Alliance's office and on eastern europeans.

However, Mr Robinson said he and the DUP had "consistently and publicly" opposed racist attacks.

Sinn Féin said the decision to visit the Islamic Centre separately was an agreement between the ministers "at the request of peter Robinson".

A DUP spokesman said: "peter wanted to deal with the issue himself and the folks at the Islamic Centre were happy to greet him."