Peter Robinson gives Muslim leader tour of Stormont

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson has given a Muslim religious leader a tour of Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly.

Afterwards Imam Ibrahim Noonan said he would like to meet the fundamentalist Christian pastor whose heavy criticism of the Islamic faith ignited a political furore at Stormont.

The Galway-based cleric said he was reassured by an apology made by the first minister after he defended comments by Pastor James McConnell, who described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”.

Mr Noonan told the BBC: “Sometimes things are said, taken out of context and exaggerated.

“I found him (Mr Robinson) very warm and friendly, open and welcoming.”

He said that was enough for him to believe his apology was genuine.

The controversy began last month when Mr McConnell held a church service during which he said he did not trust Muslims.

Mr Robinson has attended the pastor’s evangelical church in north Belfast in the past.

Last week the Democratic Unionist Party leader came under fire for defending the preacher’s remarks, telling the Irish News he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to sharia law, which covers everything from public executions to what adherents should do if colleagues invite them to the pub after work or college.

The DUP leader said he would “trust them to go to the shops” for him.

Mr Robinson later clarified his own remarks and met Muslim leaders in Belfast to apologise privately.

Dr Samina Dornan, a Muslim, said she agreed with Alliance MLA Anna Lo that Mr Robinson should publicly apologise.

“He is my leader too, so he needs to represent me as well,” she said.

Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan said a motion under debate at the assembly condemning a series of recent racist attacks had received support from all parties.

“It is important that we send out a strong message that these attacks will not be tolerated in any form or fashion. People who come to make a home in Ireland should be treated with respect and given the same equality as every other citizen.

“As austerity forces many of our young people to emigrate I would hope they do not find the same intolerance many of our ethnic communities and foreign nationals have faced here recently in the North.

“The people who come here make a very valuable contribution to our society.”