Ashers '˜gay cake' case: Jim Allister calls for Equality Commission chief to quit

Pressure is mounting on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in the wake of the UK Supreme Court's ruling in the so-called '˜gay cake' case.

Thursday, 11th October 2018, 6:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th October 2018, 7:54 pm

TUV leader Jim Allister said the court’s ruling that Ashers Baking Company hadn’t discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by refusing his order for a cake carrying the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ was “a devastating indictment” of the commission, which backed his complaint against the family-owned firm.

The North Antrim MLA claims the organisation is “unfit for purpose” and has written to chief commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow calling on him to resign.

Mr Allister has also submitted an Assembly motion condemning the “flawed judgment” of the taxpayer-funded body.

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Equality Commission Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow is facing calls to quit
Equality Commission Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow is facing calls to quit

The bakery’s owners, the McArthur family, always maintained that they hadn’t discriminated against Mr Lee, but had refused to produce the cake as the message requested went against their firmly held Christian beliefs.

Ashers were previously found guilty in the County Court of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and ordered to pay damages of £500, but the McArthurs – backed by The Christian Institute – took their case to the UK’s highest court.

On Wednesday, five justices upheld their appeal, ruling that Ashers hadn’t discriminated against Mr Lee.

The judgment, which could end a lengthy and costly legal battle – the bill for which could top £500,000 – has been widely welcomed as a victory for freedom of conscience.

Jim Allister said the Equality Commission is 'unfit for purpose'

With the Equality Commission facing stinging criticism from some quarters for its role in the case against Ashers, Mr Allister has written directly to Dr Wardlow urging him to consider his position.

In his letter, the former barrister criticises the commission’s “fundamentally flawed” approach to the complaint against Ashers, claiming that it has resulted in a loss of confidence in the commission and “done permanent damage to its standing among many in the Christian community”.

“As a step towards redeeming the position of the commission, I urge you to take responsibility for this fiasco and resign forthwith. Other commission members should also consider their position, but you as chief commissioner need to go,” Mr Allister wrote.

Responding to the News Letter’s request for a response from Dr Wardlow, a spokesperson for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said: “The commission has received a letter from Mr Allister and it will be responding to him.

“The commission would have nothing to add to the comments given yesterday by the commission regarding the case and subsequent statements of a similar nature,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the commission pointed out that Belfast County Court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal had found that Mr Lee had been discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation, political opinion and religious belief, and expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court’s judgement.