Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley's election agent quits DUP over gay councillor Alison Bennington

Alison Bennington with DUP colleagues at the election count, and right, Rev James Beggs
Brendan Hughes

THE late Ian Paisley's brother-in-law and election agent has resigned from the DUP in response to the party selecting an openly gay election candidate.

Rev James Beggs – a retired Free Presbyterian minister, who was the DUP North Antrim branch's honorary chaplain – said he "wasn't happy with the direction the party was going in" following Alison Bennington's selection.

Ms Bennington became the DUP's first openly gay elected representative earlier this month after securing a council seat in Antrim and Newtownabbey.

Her election is being seen as a significant step for the DUP, a party with a history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.

But some DUP members have criticised the party for choosing her as a candidate.

DUP MLA Jim Wells said the move "fundamentally undermines" the party's Christian traditions, while DUP councillor John Finlay said former party leader Mr Paisley – who led the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the late 1970s – would be "turning in his grave".

Rev Beggs (84) led the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballymena for around 34 years and was an election agent for Mr Paisley, the church's founder.

He confirmed yesterday he sent his resignation letter to the party just days after The Irish News last month revealed Ms Bennington is the DUP's first openly gay politician.

"I resigned when this news came out. I have to do what I feel I must do as a Christian minister," he said.

Rev Beggs said the selection of a gay candidate was the "final thing" that prompted his decision to resign, adding: "I wasn't happy with the direction the party was going in in recent days.

"I had been a paid-up member until this happened. I felt I had to resign."

Rev Beggs, who is married to Mr Paisley's sister Margaret, said his wife has "never been a member" of the DUP.

He would not be drawn on whether other people have also quit the party.

Earlier this week, Rev Beggs branded the DUP's choice of an openly gay election candidate "contrary to the word of God".

"This decision to run somebody LGBT, I'm totally opposed to that," he said.

"The word of God outlines the fact that it is against homosexuality – that's quite clear from scripture."

He added: "I am most unhappy with the decision the DUP have taken. I believe it is contrary to the word of God."

LGBT activists have broadly welcomed Ms Bennington's election as a "positive development", while DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson described it as a "good news story".

The party has said it continues to oppose same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – the only part of Ireland and Britain where it remains outlawed.

Last month Ian Paisley Jnr, who has previously said he is "repulsed by gay and lesbianism", declined to comment when asked about Ms Bennington's candidacy.

"Away and get another story," the DUP North Antrim MP told The Irish News in a phone call, before hanging up.

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