Concern over NIO’s ‘campaign slogan’ language around same-sex marriage

Pacemaker Press 4/8/17'A Pride flag flies at Stormont House in Belfast. Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire gave the go-ahead for the symbolic move. The flag was raised beside Stormont House on Friday morning to mark the city's Pride festival .'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 4/8/17'A Pride flag flies at Stormont House in Belfast. Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire gave the go-ahead for the symbolic move. The flag was raised beside Stormont House on Friday morning to mark the city's Pride festival .'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The language used by the Civil Service in recruiting a senior policy advisor shows the NIO has adopted a position on one side of the same-sex marriage debate, a leading evangelical has said.

Peter Lynas was responding to an internal advertisement inviting applications for a senior ‘rights and equality’ official to “lead on a range of equality and rights issues within the NIO”.

Mr Lynas, Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance, said the use of the term ‘equal marriage’ in the document was significant in that it was the “loaded language” of a “campaign slogan” rather than reflecting the neutral stance of the Civil Service.

“If you say that (equal marriage), rather than the ‘redefinition’ of or even ‘same-sex’ marriage, which would be considered neutral language, to me somebody has either made a mistake in writing it or they have a position,” he said.

“It is completely loaded language and...I would find it stunning if that was a mistake.”

The job advert – which was sent to members of the NI Civil Service last month and obtained by the News Letter – says that the NIO is seeking to recruit a ‘Senior Policy Adviser.’

It adds: “The post holder will lead on a range of very high profile equality and rights issues within the NIO. This includes driving forward the Government’s approach to issues around equal marriage, abortion and human rights in the context of EU Exit.”

Mr Lynas said: “It is very provocative and it’s hard to see that you’re doing anything else other than arguing for a position. These are devolved matters, so they have no right to argue for a position – they are supposed to be honest brokers.

“Their language on abortion is much more neutral...“it would be the same as [NIO] saying ‘we are going to look at a ‘pro-choice’ or a ‘pro-life’ something.”

In August last year, NIO officials raised a rainbow flag at Stormont House for the first time to mark the city’s annual Pride festival.

At the time, the then Secretary of State James Brokenshire said: “Whilst policy on equal marriage is entirely a devolved matter for politicians within the Assembly, I voted in support of equal marriage in England and Wales and like the Prime Minister hope this can be extended to Northern Ireland in the future.”

The policy advisor job is for those at grade seven or deputy principal grades, suggesting that the salary will be up to around £55,000.

The job description goes on to say: “The post holder will also support discussions on the issue of culture and identity in the context of current political talks.”

A NIO spokeswoman said: “Media speculation around the nature and appointment of a number of NIO posts is totally without foundation. To be clear, these are not newly created posts – they are existing posts which are being filled following staff moves.

“The Government does receive a significant amount of correspondence on a variety of matters across devolved issues from a range of interested parties, and to whom it has to respond. The job description is purely illustrative of the types of sensitive issues that are raised.”

The spokeswoman added: “The post holder will also deal with a range of other matters including human rights and Brexit. There is absolutely no correlation between the recruitment of these staff and the current political process. As the Secretary of State has continually set out, the Government is committed to restoring a functioning Executive and Assembly at the earliest opportunity.”

Rainbow Project director John O’Doherty said the new secretary of state Karen Bradley should now “make clear her intentions,” around same-sex marriage.

“The Love Equality campaign looks forward to an early meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how best to bring Northern Ireland into line with the other jurisdictions in these islands with the legal recognition the right of same sex-couples to marry.”

Mr O’Doherty said he believed same-sex marriage in NI was inevitable, but added: “In the absence of an Assembly and Executive, the responsibility for undoing marriage discrimination in Northern Ireland falls to the Secretary of State. We hope she will choose to be an ally to LGBT people, their friends, family members and the overwhelming majority of people here.”