‘Gay cake’ case: Allister bid to cut quango’s funding by £500,000

The message that Ashers refused to put on a cake
The message that Ashers refused to put on a cake

The TUV leader will next week attempt to have the Equality Commission’s budget slashed in response to its legal case against Ashers Baking Company.

Jim Allister has tabled an amendment to the departmental estimates – a budgetary motion which is normally approved by MLAs as a formality – which will be debated in the Assembly on Monday.

Mr Allister has now proposed that the Equality Commission, a quango which is answerable to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), has its £6 million budget cut by £500,000.

The North Antrim MLA said that his proposal – which will only succeed if it attracts substantial support from other parties – was prompted by the quango’s decision to take the bakery to court for refusing to make a cake with the slogan ‘Support gay marriage’.

That case will be heard in court next month.

Mr Allister said: “Clearly the commission has too much money if it has money to squander on persecuting a Christian bakery. So, I am giving MLAs the opportunity to express their disapproval of the conduct of the commission by cutting their budget. Such is a traditional parliamentary tactic available to backbenchers to focus attention on a matter of public concern.”

Mr Allister appealed for support: “Some like to distance themselves from the Equality Commission’s despicable action by pointing out their quasi-independence, but they are funded by OFMDFM and thus the estimates and vote on account are a golden opportunity to effectively mark the commission’s card. I trust all MLAs concerned by the persecution of Ashers will take the opportunity to give bite to their stance by supporting my amendment.”

He added: “Taking £500,000 off its budget will focus the commission’s mind on addressing its proper role, instead of its malicious vendetta against conservative Christians.”

Speaking on BBC programme The View on Thursday night, the commission’s chief commissioner, Michael Wardlow, denied that it had an anti-Christian agenda. Although the commission has said that it will not comment on the Ashers case until after the court ruling, he said that he believed the law was “very, very clear” about the obligation on businesses not to discriminate based on an individual’s sexual orientation.

And Dr Wardlow set out the commission’s strong opposition to DUP MLA Paul Givan’s attempt to introduce a “conscience clause” into equality law to provide an opt-out of the legislation for people who have “strongly-held religious views”.