I wrote to my MLA Gordon Dunne after his question in the Assembly this week. It is somewhat of a shock that I actually heard back so promptly, this is an MLA who has failed to answer me on a whole number of previous correspondence. I do not think I am breaching any confidence by publishing his full response:
"Your comments are noted!"
Yes there is an explanation mark at the end of his short reply so I am taking that to be a terse reply.
For the record here is the email I wrote to him.
I was rather disappointed in your question during topical questions to OFMDFM yesterday.
Firstly the Equality Commission have to operate independently of political interference from any Executive Department or the Assembly as a whole, as they may have to make decisions on actions from within the Assembly. Therefore you were quite rightly told that this is the case.
On the matter of legal proceedings these have to be based on the law as it stands at the moment and the time of the incident in question. Proceedings cannot be halted while any Government is in the process of changing the law.
But there is no Assembly Bill to change the law, there is a private member's bill which is at the consultation stage. Has yet to be assess for an equality audit under the conditions of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act or be voted on in the chamber.
I know that the history of consultation on matters that concern LGBT isn't great, the first on a sexual orientation strategy occurred in 2006 under direct rule and we are still waiting for the imminent publication of the actual strategy and action plan.
In hindsight, it might have helped if at some point in the last 8 years such a strategy and action plan had actually been published to supplement the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regualations (Northern Ireland) 2006. It may well have be able to help the Equality Commission to determine where the regulations stood on the expression of something promoting a topical political discussion and people of faith running a business for commercial purposes.
I have read the consultation document on the conscience clause with all its leading questions and narrative. I'm also rather shocked at how badly drafted it appears to be, relating commercial enterprise to regulation 16 which relates directly to religious bodies, rather than regulation 5 which relates to goods, facilities and services. I shall be making a formal response in due course.
However, I am wondering if the wording of your question is an indication of shift in DUP policy and practice. Is your party trying to stall members of the LGBT community seeking recourse through the courts by introducing legislation; claiming such governmental proceedings should have precedence over legal action?
As with my points above:
(a) legal proceedings should be free from political interference(b) legal proceedings must be based on present law, not hypothetical changes in future(c) legal proceedings must be timely and not subject to delays caused by drawn out legislative process.
Therefore I hope this is not the case of a DUP strategy. It is interference in legal proceedings and like the conscience clause is not about freedom of conscience but about the right of some to find ways and means to act homophobically with the protection of the law.
I hope that you do read this and will actually take time to respond.