Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster criticised for no DUP apology to LGBT community

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the PinkNews event, and inset, how The Irish News reported on her attendance. Picture by Declan Roughan
Brendan Hughes

ARLENE Foster has faced criticism from gay rights campaigners after saying a DUP apology to the LGBT community "isn't fruitful for anybody frankly".

The DUP leader joined an LGBT event on Thursday in the latest in a series of recent outreach initiatives which included attending last Sunday's Ulster GAA final.

In her speech at the PinkNews reception at Stormont, Mrs Foster said she valued the LGBT community's contribution to Northern Ireland – but asked people to respect her viewpoint opposing same-sex marriage.

Mrs Foster received a warm welcome as she became the first DUP leader to attend such an event celebrating the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

However, campaigners expressed disappointment that her speech did not acknowledge or apologise for previous DUP hostility and derogatory comments about gay people.

When asked by The Irish News whether the DUP should apologise for this, Mrs Foster said: "Well you know, we could get into a round of apologies and I don't think that that's fruitful for anybody frankly.

"I think what is important is that I am here today to recognise the contribution LGBT+ people make to Northern Ireland, that's why I'm here, and I hope that people take that as the reason why I am here."

Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty said that if Mrs Foster is serious about building a relationship with the LGBT community, "it will mean listening to LGBT people about the hurt and pain which has been caused by her party".

"Reflecting on the cruel, hurtful and offensive comments which senior members of her party have made with impunity, she should recognise that an apology would be appropriate," he said.

"In contrast however, LGBT people have never attempted to criminalise the DUP and we have never retaliated against those who have said that we are 'obnoxious', 'odious' and worse than those who sexually abuse children.

"In short, we have done nothing for which we need to apologise. That cannot be said for the DUP."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that while Mrs Foster's attendance "marks the start of a journey, it was nowhere near enough".

Alliance leader Naomi Long said Mrs Foster's attendance was important but the lack of apology was "disappointing".

Sinn Féin MLA Megan Fearon, the party's equality spokesperson, said: "What the DUP need to do is listen to the LGBT community, acknowledge the hurt that has been caused to that community and end the discrimination which they still face through issues such as the DUP's ongoing refusal to commit to marriage equality despite the political and popular support which very clearly exists."

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: "The DUP had the opportunity to show some contrition for the hurtful language that has been used by representatives of the party over the years, but they let it pass them by."

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