OFMDFM blasted for funding body which took on cake case

Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict

TUV leader Jim Allister has accused the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister of being complicit in this week’s court judgment of unlawful discrimination against Ashers Baking Company in Belfast.

The Christian owners of the bakery were found to have discriminated against a gay man when they refused to make a cake carrying a slogan that promoted same-sex marriage.

Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court

Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court

Mr Allister said on Wednesday: “One of the most frustrating things about the Ashers case is that the persecution of a family-owned business was financed by the public purse.

“The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) provides the funding for the Equality Commission who have taken the case.

“Many taxpayers in Northern Ireland are rightly outraged by the fact that their money was used in this way. That is why I proposed an amendment to the Executive’s annual spending plans which would have slashed the commission’s budget.”

He added: “Just a few months ago Gerry Adams let the cat out of the bag when he described equality as the republican ‘Trojan horse’.

“When unionists reflect on that they will doubtless remember that the RUC went in the name of equality, the Union Flag came down in the name of equality and Loyal Order marches are stopped in the name of equality.

“Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission, in the Guardian in March, said he could understand why Christians might find it difficult in their conscience to do certain things and then added, ‘Well, I would then say either look at the law or maybe that is not the business they should be in’.”

A spokesman for the DUP said that it issued a statement in February saying that the party’s Simon Hamilton as finance minister had slashed the commission’s budget by £430,000 two weeks previously within his ministerial budget.

In March Peter Robinson slammed the Equality Commission for spending up to £33,000 to seek court damages worth £500 from the Christian-owned bakery.

The First Minister said better use could be made of the money.

“This is not an issue of discriminating against any section of the community, in terms of the gay or lesbian community, nor is it a matter of attempting to get some special privilege for people of faith,” he told the Assembly.

“The issue here is where there are competing rights, ensuring that there is reasonable accommodation. That is what the Equality Commission have missed in all of this.”

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Equality Commission both declined to offer any comment in response to Mr Allister’s criticisms.