THE Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, met a
60-strong representation from the Muslim community on Tuesday
evening, to apologise for supporting an Evangelical preacher at the
church he attends, who said that Muslims who supported sharia could
not be trusted for spiritual advice.
In a sermon earlier this month, Pastor James McConnell alleged
that there were "cells" of Muslims in Britain akin to those of the
IRA, and that Islam was a heathen, satanic doctrine spawned in
He also recalled Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech of
1968, and said: "Enoch Powell was a prophet, and he told us that
blood would flow in the streets, and it has happened."
Mr Robinson, who attends the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle
in North Belfast, where Pastor McConnell preached, had said that he
strongly supported the pastor's right to freedom of speech, but
acknowledged that there were many Muslims who had made a
significant contribution to life in Northern Ireland.
In an effort to defuse the row, he had said that he would never
seek to cause any insult to any section of the community, and that
he would "demonstrate my ongoing support for [local Muslim leaders]
as integral law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland".
On Wednesday of last week, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, from the Belfast
Islamic Centre, invited Mr Robinson to visit him. Noting the
support for the Muslim community from other politicians, churches,
and individuals in Northern Ireland after the remarks, Dr Al-Wazzan
said: "We have got lots of support from the major politicians in
Northern Ireland; we have lots of support from churches in Northern
Ireland; and lots of ordinary people and organisations phoned us
and emailed in support of us."
The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, said
that the remarks by Pastor McConnell which the First Minister
supported were an example of hate-mongering. "Coming in the wake of
the recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in
parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only
serve to fuel hatred," he said.
"I value the . . . significant and valuable contribution the
Muslim community makes to this society day and daily. There is a
real need for all of us in positions of responsibility to step out
of our own political constituencies and religious groupings, and
show genuine political leadership for all."
After the meeting on Tuesday at the Belfast Islamic Centre, Mr
Robinson said: "I apologised to these gentlemen if anything I said
caused them hurt, and I can see that in many cases it has. I
apologised to them face to face, personally, man to man, the way it
should be done."
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has denounced the
remarks as "unacceptable". It is understood that the PSNI are
investigating the possibility that a "hate crime" may have been
Anti-racism protests held in Belfast. An
estimated 4000 people attended an anti-racism rally in Belfast, and
hundreds staged a similar protest in Derry last weekend.
The incoming Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland,
the Revd Dr Michael Barry, said at his installation on Monday that
racism remained an affront to democracy and civic values in the
North, and should stop immediately.