Irish gay community's sorrow over mass shootings in Orlando
THE Irish gay community plus a number of politicians have expressed their shock at a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando which has left at least 50 people dead.
The attacker named as Omar Mateen, who wielded an assault-type rifle and a handgun, opened fire inside Pulse, spraying clubbers with bullets.
He was later killed in a shootout with Swat officers after taking hostages.
Authorities are investigating the attack - which left at least 53 other people in hospital, most of them critically ill - as an act of terrorism.
Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Mary Ellen Campbell, who was recently elected as the city's first openly gay deputy mayor, said she is "shocked and horrified at the slaughter of the innocents" in Orlando.
“This atrocity has not only stunned America, it has stunned the world," she said.
"This attack on a group of people enjoying a Pride event is an attack on the progress that the LGBT community globally have made in the struggle for human dignity and respect.
“The world needs to show its support for the LGBT community at this time."
It was announced late on Sunday night that a vigil will take place this Tuesday evening at 5.30pm outside Belfast City Hall in memory of the victims.
In a posting on Facebook on Sunday evening, The Rainbow Project said: "Our deepest condolences are with the friends and family of the victims of this terrible atrocity."
The statement added: "An attack like this is devastating at any time, but for it to occur during US Pride month is a stark reminder of the need to tackle prejudice and hatred against the LGBT community."
The organisation also said it will open a book of condolence at its offices in Belfast and Derry.
Events in the US were also condemned by the Alliance Party's MLA Stephen Farry who said it was "a horrific attack on people relaxing and having a good time".
"Our thoughts are with the people of Orlando and in particular the victims and survivors of this attack and their families," he said.
"Indeed, Orlando is a part of the United States that many people from Northern Ireland will be familiar with.
“This was more than just an attack on the individuals but an attack on the values of an open, liberal, and diverse society.
"It is a reminder that around the world that many people continue to attacked or persecuted for their sexual orientation.
“It is vital that this attack is now properly investigated. Whatever the warped motivation of the suspect, it is important that one manifestation of prejudice does not lead to a different form of prejudice based on religion becoming reinforced.”
First Minister Martin McGuiness tweeted: "My heart goes out to all those killed and injured in the appalling Orlando shooting. My sympathy & prayers are with their heartbroken families."
— Martin McGuinness (@M_McGuinness_SF) June 12, 2016
Belfast City Councillor Jeff Dudgeon said he was "deeply shocked to hear of the sheer scale of the casualties at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando".
"It is hard to comprehend the enormity of the act and the awful nature of the suffering of the members of the LGBT community," he said.
"Those who survived will never be the same again, while the lives of so many, mostly, young victims out enjoying themselves on a Saturday night have been cruelly and abruptly ended.
"Northern Ireland is no stranger to mass murder. Our community knows there is a reservoir of hatred out there that can be motivated to action by political organisations and by religious hate speech.
"The people of Belfast will I know express their solidarity with the people of Orlando, a city in Florida many of us know well and have visited."
He added: "I have asked that our City Hall officials put arrangements in place to allow citizens to show their sympathy to our American friends."
Irish president Michael D Higgins said he was "horrified and deeply saddened" about the mass shooting.
He said: "As President of Ireland I wish to express my sincerest condolences to the families of all those bereaved and affected.
"Our thoughts are with the people of Florida and the community in Orlando and Orange County at this difficult time. The loss of innocent life on such a horrendous scale is truly shocking and challenges us all.
"I have spoken to Ambassador O'Malley and personally conveyed my deepest sympathy and our nation's solidarity with the people of the United States at this time."
Meanwhile, Archbishop Eamon Martin has offered prayers for those killed and injured in the shootings, adding he was "greatly shocked and saddened".
"Many Irish families enjoy visits to this beautiful and friendly place, and it is heartbreaking to hear about such a high number of people killed in violent circumstances," he said.
"The taking of innocent human life is always wrong.
"On behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference I wish to express my profound condolences and I offer prayers of solidarity from Ireland to those who have been touched by this tragedy in the United States.
"In the coming days I ask that the faithful remember in their prayers, and at Mass, all those who have been injured or killed, and their families.”