Mr Dunne asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether they believe that, given the launch today of a private Member’s Bill to include a conscience clause, the Equality Commission should now withdraw legal action against Ashers Bakery pending the outcome of the legislative process. (AQT 1861/11-15)The response seeing as it was the Deputy First Minister answering the questions (although he deferred to his junior minister was actually better than if it had been left to the unionist side of OFMDFM I suspect.
Mr M McGuinness: With your permission, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, junior Minister McCann will answer this question.
Ms J McCann: I thank the Member for his question. I am aware that some discussions took place between the Equality Commission and the bakery prior to the civil case being taken. The main issue is the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on the grounds of sexual orientation, religious beliefs or political opinion. I think that the civil case will determine whether any discrimination has taken place.
Mr Dunne: I thank the junior Minister for her answer. Does she agree that the Equality Commission should withdraw its legal action pending against Ashers Bakery at this time?
Ms J McCann: It is not up to OFDMFM to agree or disagree with the Equality Commission. It is its own body and it has an independent role to advance fairness and equality for all. It is also responsible for implementing legislation on all those cases and challenging discrimination. We have to leave it to the Equality Commission because, at the end of the day, that will be where it will see whether discrimination happened. I am sure that the Equality Commission will have taken whatever measures it could have before entering into that case.
The point is that no matter what anybody's political persuasion the Equality Commission has to be allowed to operate independently as it is often testing the Assembly's own adherence to equality. Plus they have to act on the law as it stands at the moment.
Indeed surely the Assembly which has taken over 8 years in some consultations and still no action on activity cannot delay the legal process. But does this mean that this consultation and possibly never enacted Bill are a new stalling tactic that the DUP are using to prevent LGBT people from getting a determination in law if they feel their rights have been violated. If so, this is a new low even for the DUP and proves that the Conscience Clause is nothing of the sort but a get at LGBT people by a different means.