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DUP leaders apologise over party members’ past homophobia

“Sorry needn’t be the hardest word” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said today

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki

Leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland have, in a historic move, apologised to the LGBTQ community for past comments and statements made by its members.

The party’s deputy leader, Paula Bradley, apologised at an event last night (1 July 2021). The leader of the party, Jeffrey Donaldson, also apologised this morning (2 July 2021).

The party doesn’t have the best record on LGBTQ issues with members vociferously criticising same-sex marriage and even same-sex couples on Strictly Come Dancing.

“I can certainly say I apologise for what others have said and done”

Speaking at Pink News’ Virtual Summer Reception in Belfast on Thursday. Bradley said: “I am not going to defend some of the things that have been said over the years because they have been absolutely atrocious.

“And I think that the vast majority of those people have made those comments are no longer there and the ones that are there have said that they have learned their lessons, and that their language at times has not been right.”

Paula Bradley (Photo: Wiki)

One of the party’s most homophobic MPs, Nigel Dodds, spent 18 years voting against every single piece of LGBTQ equality legislation put before him, including same-sex adoption, civil partnerships and marriage equality. Thankfully, he lost his seat in the 2019 election.

Bradley also said: “The language that we use as elected representatives has an impact on wider society so I can certainly say I apologise for what others have said and done in the past because I do think there has been some very hurtful comments and some language that really should not have been used.”

Bradley joined representatives from the six major political parties in Northern Ireland at the event, where they all agreed to ban conversion therapy and ease access to trans healthcare.

“Sorry needn’t be the hardest word”

Appearing on BBC Radio Ulster this morning (2 July) DUP leader Donaldson said: “There’s no doubt that in the past things have been said that should not have been said across a whole range of issues.

“And not just by the DUP. Let’s be clear, […] I have seen people on marches and at rallies say things about the DUP that have been hurtful to us and to our members as well.

“I’ve seen things said about people from faith communities that have been hurtful and should not have been said.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Photo: Wiki)

Sir Donaldson said it was “right to apologise” and that what he wants to see “a discourse that is respectful of difference” in Northern Ireland. He added: “Sorry needn’t be the hardest word.”

The apologies mark a stark departure from what we’ve come to expect from the DUP. In 2015 the then-health minister, Jim Wells, resigned after being filmed saying: “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused and neglected.”

In 2019, Wells said he’d be boycotting Strictly Come Dancing if it included same-sex couples. At the time, he asked: “Why are we damaging what has been seen as sacrosanct?” 

Last year the party’s former leader Arlene Foster said marriage equality had been “imposed” on Northern Ireland and that measures should be introduced to protect churches.