The North’s new First Minister Ian Paisley has delivered his first question-and-answer session in the Belfast Assembly in his inimitable manner but without generating fresh controversy.

Following a series of contentious statements by his son, Ian Paisley Jr, Mr Paisley refused to provide an assurance his son will have no role in bringing forward legislation in relation to gays and lesbians.

He also failed to provide a date for a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council -- a cross-border institution set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, long opposed by the DUP -- blaming the delay on the failure to consitute a new coalition government in Dublin.

But it was his son’s comments that he was repulsed by homosexuals which was the source of confusion as Paisley Senior prematurely attempted to head off the controversy.

He indicated he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were opposed to discrimination -- before he was actually asked the question about his son’s opinions.

He pointed out that the terms of office for the new administration demanded a commitment to equality.

“The office of First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is totally committed to promoting equality of human rights and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are completely opposed to any form of discrimination or harassment against any citizens -- and so are all in their office,” said Mr Paisley.

But there wqas no response to the actual question posed by SDLP man Thomas Burns, who had asked the First Minister whether he agreed with a scathing dismissal by his son -- now a Junior Minister himself -- of the role of Junior Ministers some years ago.

Later, Mr Paisley refused to allow that his son would have no role in equality legislation in relation to the gay and lesbian community.

“This House is sovereign, this House is Pope,” he said, apparently referring to the Assembly’s primary role in approving new legislation.


Later, in response to a question from Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, Mr Paisley said the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council would be in Armagh “shortly” and the Assembly would be informed when officials had pinned down a date.

When Mr McElduff expressed dismay at Mr Paisley’s failure to specify a date, the DUP leader raised laughter in the chamber when he pointed out there had been an election in the 26 Counties which had so far failed to lead to a new coalition government.

In Dublin, talks will continue tomorrow between the leadership of Fianna Fail and the Green Party after significant progress was reported to have been made tonight following fresh contacts between the parties at the weekend.

To general amusement, Mr Paisley pointed out that Sinn Féin should be aware of that situation, and could try to “use its influence” in the matter. But he also did not miss the opportunity to add that Sinn Féin “had not done well” in the election in the 26 Counties.


Ian Paisley Junior created a further controversy last week when he said his party could block the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Belfast Assembly for several years.

Paisley Jr said that, contrary to the St Andrews Agreement target of May next year, the transfer could only happen in a “future Assembly” - which at the earliest would be in 2011.

Mr Paisley said that the DUP would use its effective political veto if the party did not believe there was sufficient public confidence to justify this transfer.

In the critical political negotiations of recent months, Sinn Féin made the transfer of these powers by May next year a key priority for agreeing to devolution. However, the matter was not raised in today’s Assembly session.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2007 Irish Republican News